In her 2010 presidential address to the Midwest Sociological Society (a published version of the speech is referenced below), Diane Pike proposed three ideas about teaching that she says are dead. She borrows the concept of “dead ideas” from a book by Matt Miller, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash New Prosperity (2009). Pike explains, “Ideas are dead because they are no longer correct, if they ever were. They are tyranny because we cling to them despite the evidence. Thus, we fail to act as we should.” (p. 2) Here are highlights from the three dead ideas Pike discusses in her speech.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Teaching and Learning
The title of Nadine Dolby’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education makes a great point about teaching that often goes unspoken: “There’s no learning when nobody’s listening.” It seems to me that most of us take this for granted. How many of us take steps to ensure our students are not only hearing the words uttered during our classes, but actually listening to them. Should we? And what might this entail?
As I left my desk to attend the faculty development workshop, I picked up four thank-you cards for the rotations program, a report to read, and a newsletter to edit. I’ve been to dozens of development seminars, and I’ve learned to be prepared with something else to do in case the presenter is mind-numbingly boring. The pleasant surprise of the morning was that the speaker engaged us in learning for more than three hours! How did he do that?
Most professors want students to know how to research and write in their fields. In fact, many degree programs now have introductory courses for majors with content that addresses these research and writing basics. However, the assumption that students learn everything they need in one course is a faulty one. All of us who teach courses for majors need to regularly revisit this content if students are to develop these research and writing abilities. Let me be specific and suggest six things professors can do that help students improve in both areas.
I want to explain the use of what I call “frameworks” in my college teaching. I have used them during nine years of teaching graduate and undergraduate classes, and my students tell me that they are particularly helpful. Although I teach in Utica College’s Education program, this tool has application across a broad number of disciplines and courses at a variety of levels.
Grading participation presents a number of challenges. If instructors rely on their sense of who participated, how often, and in what ways, that can be a pretty subjective measure. After all, besides noting who’s contributing, the instructor needs to listen to what the student is saying, and frame a response while keeping the larger discussion context in mind. Is the discussion staying on track? Are there points that have yet to be made? If instructors opt for a more objective system, they face the cumbersome task of comment counting during the actual discussion. While listening to the student, the instructor must find the student’s name and record the comment. It requires a challenging set of multitasking skills.
Most college teachers don’t need research results to confirm that class attendance is a problem for many students. Some skip occasionally, others regularly; and some we see for the first time on exam days. Most faculty believe that students learn the material much better when they regularly attend class, and hence policies that require attendance are now the norm in many (could we say most?) classrooms.
Faculty often recommend study groups to students, especially in large courses or in courses where students typically struggle with the material. “You’ll do better on exams in this course if you work together with some other students.” Beyond these verbal recommendations or some description of the benefits of study groups in the syllabus, most faculty leave the formation and activities of study groups entirely up to students.
Understanding learner needs is essential for providing quality education. One approach to understand learner needs is through the use of student evaluation questionnaires which allow us to collate student feedback or suggestions. A common argument against the use of student evaluations is that students do not know their own needs. However, many studies have shown student feedback/suggestions to be reliable and valid. If we do not even attempt to understand their needs, we may fail to recognize the support they require to be successful.
I’d like to report on a nonscientific study I have been conducting, without human-subjects approval or even a clear research plan. This won’t make it into the research journals, but the results are still compelling.
My “study” has been continuous for over two years. During that time, I have made numerous trips, at random times, from my administrative office to a building on the opposite corner of campus. For nearly three months, I made the round trip twice a day or more. Every time, I have walked through the ground floor of our main general classroom building, which has about 14 classrooms, mostly 30- to 50-person rooms, but also with one 120-person tiered lecture hall. The classrooms are assigned to courses covering a wide range of disciplines, mostly first- or second-year classes.