I flunked out of college seven times. Yes, seven times. While there are many great tales associated with each failure—friends causing endless distractions, having to work late, one lame excuse after another—ultimately, I accepted that I am responsible for never acting like a student. Seven times I signed up, seven times I purchased books, seven times I went to class for a couple of weeks, and seven times I was off on another (ostensibly more important) adventure.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Can a syllabus get students excited for your course? What will keep students coming back to it? These seven design elements can help students get the most out of your syllabus, prepare them for the course, and focus on the learning goals ahead. My Engaging Syllabus Design: Example illustrates all of these design elements.
“Do you know how much this exam is worth?”
“I can’t find any office hours listed for one of my classes—are there any?.”
“What if I get sick and miss a few classes—will my grade be hurt?”
My answer was the same for all three questions—“I don’t know.” Even though these were my first-year seminar students asking these questions, they were looking at syllabi from their other courses, part of a syllabus review exercise I do each fall with first-time students.
You can tell it’s exam week when you see countless students standing outside the exam room trying to take advantage of some last minute cramming. We wonder how much of this information they are about to regurgitate has contributed to their knowledge of the subject. Is what we’re “teaching” actually learned? Are we teaching in a way such that students can apply what is learned?
Assessment for Learning (AfL), sometimes referred to as “formative assessment” has become part of the educational landscape in the U.S. and is heralded to significantly raise student achievement, yet we are often uncertain what it is and what it looks like in practice in higher education. To clarify, AfL includes the formal and informal processes that faculty and students use during instruction to gather evidence for the purpose of improving learning. The aim of AfL is to improve students’ mastery of the content and to equip and empower them as self-regulated, life-long learners.
A common rhetorical move we professors make when students object to a grade is to reframe the discussion. We’ll say, “Let’s be clear. I didn’t give you this grade. You earned it.” And if it were appropriate we might underscore our zinger with a smugly snapped Z. But stop and think about it. When we make the “you earned it” move, it’s simply an attempt to shift the debate away from the fairness or interpretation of our standard and onto students to justify their effort by our standard, which really wasn’t their complaint.
I taught my first class in 1992. At the time, I was young, eager to teach, and woefully unprepared to deal with an 8:00 a.m. general education class at a mid-sized regional university. I naively anticipated walking into the classroom, putting down my stuff, and fielding provocative and interesting questions from students about the topics we were about to cover in our Introduction to Psychology course.
How often do you hear college students say, “that was fun!” on their way out of your classroom? Probably not often enough. Of course, who has time for fun when you have a syllabus packed with serious learning outcomes and one semester to accomplish your goals. Not to diminish the hard work involved in prepping for lectures, but when was the last time you asked yourself: Is my class fun?
Readers of Faculty Focus are probably already familiar with backward design. Most readily connected with such researchers as Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, and Dee Fink, this approach to course construction asks faculty to initially ignore the specific content of a class. Rather, the designer begins the process by identifying desired learning goals, and then devising optimal instruments to measure and assess them. Only thereafter does course-specific content come into play—and even then, it is brought in not for the sake of “covering” it, but as a means to achieve the previously identified learning objectives. Courses designed this way put learning first, often transcend the traditional skillset boundaries of their discipline, and usually aim to achieve more ambitious cognitive development than do classes that begin—and often end —with content mastery as the primary focus. Although the advantages of backward design are manifest, it’s probably still the exception to, rather than the rule of, course planning.