A colleague at another institution, “Bill,” recently contacted me with a problem. Bill’s program is under fire for low exam scores and cognitive learning achievement in one of its largest general education courses. Campus administrators had generated a variety of theories: Test items were biased against non-white students, the reading level of the required textbook was too high for this school’s population, classes were too large. Most upsetting to Bill was the speculation that his department was unqualified to teach the course!
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Teaching and Learning
I’ve been writing for years that we need to teach in ways that encourage students to take more responsibility for their learning. Recently, it became clear that my thinking on this needed more detail and depth. I’ve been saying that it means students should be doing the learning tasks that make them stronger learners. They should be figuring out what’s important in the reading, rather than having the teacher to tell them. They should be taking notes rather than expecting to get the teacher’s slides and notes.
Faculty often tell students to study two hours for every credit hour. Where and when did this rule of thumb originate? I’ve been unable to track down its genesis. I suspect it started around 1909, when the Carnegie Unit (CU) was accepted as the standard measure of class time. [See Heffernan (1973) and Shedd (2003) for thorough histories of the credit hour.] The U.S. Department of Education defines the credit hour as “One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester…” The expectation was the norm when I was in college in the 1980s and more seasoned professors indicate it was expected in the 1970s too.
“Efficient and effective learning starts with a proper mindset,” Stephen Chew writes in his short, readable, and very useful chapter, “Helping Students to Get the Most Out of Studying.” Chew continues, pointing out what most of us know firsthand, students harbor some fairly serious misconceptions that undermine their efforts to learn. He identifies four of them.
The following conceptions of feedback were offered by a group of students studying to become physical therapists. They were asked to recall a situation during their time in higher education when they felt they’d experienced feedback. Then they were asked a series of questions about the experience and about feedback more generally: “What is feedback? How would you describe it? How do you go about getting it? How do you use it?” (p. 924) The goal of the study was to investigate students’ conceptions of feedback. Student conceptions involve underlying personal beliefs, views, and ideas, unlike student perceptions, which explore how the feedback is understood. Analysis of transcripts from the interviews reveal four conceptions of feedback held by this student group
Evidence of the importance of teacher-student relationships is robust. The relationship between a teacher and a student is related to many positive outcomes for the student, including academic success, improved emotional functioning, and increased well-being even after school completion. In fact, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported individuals who felt more connected to a professor while they attended college were more engaged at work and identified higher levels of well-being (Carlson, 2014). The individuals reported emotional support from professors took the form of excitement for learning and a caring attitude about the student’s current well-being and future success.
Faculty are often confronted by the ghosts of educators past. In the writing intensive courses I teach, those ghosts usually manifest in one phrase: “I’m a bad writer.” This embarrassed confession bespeaks an educational experience fraught with negative beliefs and expectations, not just about their writing but about their ability to succeed in general. The phrase becomes an inescapable prophecy lurking in every writing assignment prompt. “I know I’m not going to do well on this assignment,” they explain to themselves, “I’m just not a good writer.” They do not seek help, ask questions, organize their notes, or create outlines and rough drafts of their essays because the outcome is a foregone conclusion. And of course, because they do not do these vital steps in the writing process, they receive poor grades—and the prophecy is fulfilled. From the front of the classroom, however, I can see the reality: the student is not a “bad” writer but merely under-practiced and under-prepared. But how can I help students to see it for themselves? How can I support students to move beyond negative past experiences and make positive ones? How can I empower students to break these cycles?
References to learning styles have become commonplace when faculty and students discuss learning experiences. Although learning styles seem to provide a useful explanation of why students perform differently on different tasks, there is a lack of methodologically sound research confirming their existence in the way they are most often described (Reiner & Willingham, 2010). In fact, most research suggests that people do not use one discrete style to learn new information but vary considerably in the methods they use to learn (Paschler, et al., 2009). Rather than relying on learning styles, focusing instead on metacognition can provide students with strategies that can be adapted and applied based on the learning environment and task. In this article, we briefly address the research on learning styles and metacognition and provide examples of activities to help students develop key metacognitive behaviors.
Do students ever ask you that question? As an assistant professor of mathematics at a community college, I regularly get the question. Most of my students are not mathematics majors, but are taking the class to fulfill a math requirement. I wonder if you find the question as frustrating as I do.
When it comes to connecting with students, good relationships and good rapport go hand in hand. The desired rapport develops when faculty are friendly, approachable, respectful, and caring toward students. And how do students respond to professors who’ve established good rapport? They “like” those professors, and that’s the point at which some of us experience a bit of nervous twitching. If students like us, does that mean they learn more? Does education hinge on the popularity of the professor? The ethical ground feels stronger if what students learn and take from their educational experiences results from actions that support learning. And that circles us right back to rapport and the powerful role it plays in determining how students respond to the content in our courses, their daily attendance, and the study time they devote to what we’re teaching. Student commitment to a course increases if rapport with the instructor is good. So, be nice, chat with students, and show that you love teaching.