One of the most enjoyable aspects of running a faculty development program on teaching is seeing first-hand how much our various disciplines intersect when it comes to teaching and learning. Whereas it can be hard, if not impossible, to speak about disciplinary research with colleagues outside our fields, the common teaching problems we face allow for readily understandable dialog, no matter how far apart the discussants’ fields of expertise.
Teaching and Learning
Self-regulated learning is like your own little secret. It stirs from within you, and is the voice in your head that asks you questions about your learning.
More formally, self-regulated learning is the conscious planning, monitoring, evaluation, and ultimately control of one’s learning in order to maximize it. It’s an ordered process that experts and seasoned learners like us practice automatically. It means being mindful, intentional, reflective, introspective, self-aware, self-controlled, and self-disciplined about learning, and it leads to becoming self-directed.
We know students do not take it upon themselves to read the syllabus. Yet syllabus indifference still bewilders me after teaching for 25 years, given that my syllabi are conveniently available online and in hard copy, and are replete with information virtually assuring success with my courses.
Bridging that gap between the classroom and the real world is one of my main goals as a faculty member. When I first started teaching, fresh out of the professional world, I struggled with having my students only receive a textbook education. I wanted them to not only learn the concepts relevant to their field, but I wanted them to be able to experience it as well. I was growing tired of hearing that our graduates were struggling with applying the information they had received in school. It seemed the same topics such as writing, communication, and critical thinking, were constantly being mentioned as areas of improvement for our students from professionals in the field.
When we talk about teaching effectiveness, it’s usually in the context of evaluation. Student ratings are frequently described as measures of teaching effectiveness, and that makes our understanding of the term important. Researcher Leslie Layne wondered whether students and teachers define the term similarly. If they don’t, Layne writes that understanding the differences “is crucial to faculty and administrators when interpreting student survey results.” (p. 43)
As a college student, I was rarely the first to raise my hand or respond to a question posed during class. I was shy by nature and always felt like I had little to offer. There were times, however, that I would interject simply to break the long silence after the instructor asked a question. In those cases, the silence was either too uncomfortable to bear or I figured that my response would be no worse than anyone else’s. There was also the threat of a pop quiz or some other academic challenge looming for the unresponsive class, which included students who obviously either did not know the content or had not read the assignment. I believe this is an experience all college students have faced at one time or another.
Students don’t like cumulative exams—that almost goes without saying. They prefer unit exams that include only material covered since the previous exam. And they’d like it even better if the final wasn’t a comprehensive exam but rather one last unit test. But students don’t always prefer what research shows promotes learning and long-term retention, and that is the case with this study of the effects of cumulative exams in an introductory psychology course.
Most students in my developmental writing classes claim they “hate” writing. It’s a familiar refrain. But, it is less about “hate” and more about a lack of preparation in the subject area. They do not have sufficient experience with the writing process in order to understand what to do. It is not until they gain this experience and realize for themselves what is wrong and what is right with their own work will their writing improve. This personal realization has to happen. It is key to neutralizing their fear and boosting their confidence.
Mark Twain once remarked that “All generalizations are false, including this one.” It seems that we are in a time—an educational crossroads of sorts—when teaching is overgeneralized to the point where it can be difficult for professionals to have meaningful conversations.
Tired descriptors such as “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” have permeated the pedagogical literature for more than two decades now even though they greatly oversimplify what really takes place in the college classroom. Most teaching occurs on a continuum between these two extremes. But now the term “lecture” is equated with using didactic instruction and nothing else. It is regularly blamed for a multitude of pedagogical problems in the academy. Articles in various educational journals regularly associate teaching with telling and continue to recommend that this traditional method be completely abandoned in favor of more student-centered strategies that promote active learning.
We regularly tell our students “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can learn from your mistakes.” Most of us work hard to create classroom climates where it’s okay to make mistakes. We do that because if we’re there when the mistake is made, we can expedite the learning, and because we know that everyone else in class can learn from those mistakes.