My recent foray into using MP3s to teach college level English classes came out of my need to reach more of my non-traditional students. I saw a trend developing where more adults than ever were seeking a college education or even returning to college to change careers, and it only followed that I had a responsibility as an instructor to try and reach these students. It also became apparent in my classroom that I wanted to not only reach, but to retain these non-traditional students who seemed to become easily frustrated with the more traditional lecture and textbook methods.
Teaching and Learning
Because we know that active engagement in collaborative projects can create a synergy among students that often surpasses what can be learned individually, we find ourselves designing assignments that create opportunities for students to collaborate and learn from one another. Also, the ability to work together in teams is a skill needed in today’s workforce. So for many reasons, assignments that foster collaboration have become essential parts of a well-designed course.
I work in a department that regularly enrolls 250 students in first-year classes, as do many other departments in colleges and universities. In my case, the situation is complicated by a small graduate program, too few teaching assistants, and an inability to break the larger classes into smaller sections for discussion. This makes for a very challenging teaching situation. I use groups in the large class one day per week, using activities I described previously in The Teaching Professor (March 2003). Since then, I have worked on solving the staff problem with senior undergraduate students. I call them classroom assistants (CAs).
Are our students learning? Are they developing? Are we having an impact? These questions are only a small sample of those that faculty ask before, during, and after each course that they teach. Faculty often attempt to answer such questions using the evidence they have—student remarks during class and office hours, student performance on examinations or homework assignments, student comments solicited via teaching evaluations, and their own classroom observations. While these forms of evidence can be useful, such informal assessments also can be misleading, particularly because they are generally not systematic or fully representative.
It will probably not shock any instructor to learn that students cram for exams. What may be a bit surprising is the percentage of students who do: somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent, depending on the study. In the research reported in the article referenced below, approximately 45 percent of students admitted to cramming.
As digital natives, today’s college students have instigated a transformation of the learning process. The Internet and immersive user-generated online worlds like Second Life are changing the way that college students gather and process information in all aspects of their lives. At a time when students will turn to Google rather than visit the library, or search Wikipedia instead of asking for a reference librarian, professors need to rethink how we use technology in our classrooms.
The findings of a recent study documenting differences between the priorities that faculty and students give to various learning goals will not come as a surprise to many. Those differences are an undercurrent that flow through most classes.
Only 51 percent of high school graduates who took the ACT met ACT’s College Readiness Benchmark for Reading, which demonstrates their readiness to handle the reading requirements for typical first-year college coursework. For some groups, the percentage is even more discouraging: African American students are at 21 percent, while Hispanic American students and students from families whose annual income is less than $30,000 are both at 33 percent.
If you have been teaching for any time at all, I’ll bet you’ve encountered what I call the interested but noncompliant student (hereafter, the INC). Here are some examples encountered in my courses: In an ancient language course, one INC would not take the trouble to learn her noun forms and verb endings but, fascinated by the language, went online to find an inscription that she tried to decipher. Another INC read more than I have in a subdivision of my field. He wanted to talk about it endlessly before and after class, so much so that I had to chase him away to give other students a chance to talk to me. Am I describing student behaviors that sound familiar?
Some years back The Teaching Professor featured an article highlighting Mano Singham’s wonderful piece describing how he moved away from a very authoritarian, rule-centered syllabus (reference below). It’s one of my very favorite articles—I reference it regularly in presentations, and it appears on almost every bibliography I distribute.