Mention “teaching to the test” among educators and you will certainly hear a lot about what is wrong with education today and probably more about the importance of teaching critical thinking (and how this cannot be done when you are teaching to the test). Let me suggest a slightly different take on working with tests and the development of, if not critical thinking, greater self-awareness among students as learners—teaching with the test as a form of Socratic mentoring.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
I discovered some good literature on the student entitlement topic while preparing for the Magna Online Seminar program I’m presenting later today. Among the content areas addressed in the literature are: what entitlement is, what attitudes and beliefs are indicative of it, what’s causing it, whether it’s a recent phenomenon, how it can be measured, and what those measurements reveal. But something crucial is missing: how should faculty respond. Some sources offer hints, but I did not find any good, substantive advice. This post then is an attempt to start the conversation and to invite your insights and suggestions for dealing with these troublesome attitudes and beliefs.
When I walk into a college classroom these days it is as quiet as libraries used to be. Every head is bowed and every thumb is scrolling away on a screen. There are few, if any, conversations between students. No one looks up until I take attendance. When the class is over the students depart as silently as they came. Even if they are drifting in the same direction, they rarely talk to one another. It’s almost impossible to catch the eye of a student walking toward me and, if I break the spell with a cheery “Hello!”, there is a startle reflex that reveals the depth of the self-isolation.
Your students have questions, but they rarely ask them—especially at the beginning of the semester. They feel awkward or embarrassed, or maybe it’s just inertia. Whatever the cause, the vast majority of student questions go unasked. For teachers, this is wildly frustrating because we can’t answer the questions they don’t ask (though some questions can be anticipated). In many cases, the unasked questions represent anxieties and uncertainties that negatively affect students’ performance in class and inhibits their learning. This is a particular problem in the sophomore composition class I teach. It has a reputation as a difficult class, so many students arrive intimidated and nervous.
I continue to be concerned that we don’t design learning experiences as developmentally as we should. What happens to students across a course (and the collection of courses that make up a degree program) ought to advance their knowledge and skills. Generally, we do a good job on the knowledge part, but we mostly take skill development for granted. We assume it just happens, and it does, sort of, just not as efficiently and extensively as it could if we purposefully intervened.
“Do more with less.” Wherever this phrase is expressed—at a private liberal arts school facing declining enrollments, a large research institute facing decreased support from state budget appropriations, a large corporation facing decreasing fourth quarter profits, or a government entity facing budgetary cutbacks—in each case, the underlying force is tightening fiscal resources. What invariably follows is that employees are asked to be more creative or productive in the face of those declining resources, causing an increase in demand on one’s time and, often, feelings of burnout. While increasing workload is one factor that exacerbates the prevalence of burnout, there are several others.
Group work is a valuable learning device that teaches teamwork skills which students will use no matter what profession they enter. It is perhaps even more valuable in online classes, as more and more organizations are using distributed employees who need to coordinate their work from a distance.
But group work also brings with it the danger of social loafing, those one or two students who do not contribute their fair share to the project. Not only does it undermine the quality of the project, but it creates frustration among other group members who see it as unfair to have team members not pull their own weight. This can have a dampening effect on the motivation and thus performance of other members of the group.
What is student entitlement? Ask a group of teachers to define student entitlement and their answers will strike similar themes. A definition often used by researchers categorizes student entitlement as a “tendency to possess an expectation of academic success without taking personal responsibility for achieving that success.”
At the 2017 STEM FIT Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis, Mark McDaniel, PhD, Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences, co-director of CIRCLE, and co-author of Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), presented a plenary address on how research in cognitive psychology can support effective teaching practices and improve learning. Supported by laboratory and field experiments, many of the techniques McDaniel presented from the book can be applied to most academic subjects in order to promote student learning.
Henry L. Roediger, McDaniel’s co-author, previously grouped many of these same techniques into three general principles to enhance educational practice (Roediger & Pyc, 2012). Each principle offers an opportunity to consider how to incorporate research-supported practices for sustained learning. Brief summaries of the three general principles are listed below. I have also included a few examples found within the literature of how you may incorporate these principles into your teaching:
Crowdsourcing advice for new faculty
This fall, thousands of new college teachers walked into their very own classrooms for the first time. They’ve ignored the butterflies, handled the inevitable technical malfunctions with aplomb, and learned to successfully navigate both the campus web portal and the faculty parking lot.
But there’s so much to learn, and none of it has to do with course content. They’ve had some real affirming moments, but most days feel like a race to stay a step ahead of the students. They feel like imposters … worried that their students, their colleagues, and, worst of all, their department chair will discover that they really don’t know how to teach.