When I confront “problems of practice” in my teaching, I like to turn to my smart friends for advice. About a year ago, I was really confounded by my students’ trouble with reading for deep understanding. While I could see that the students were completing assigned readings, they weren’t always able to process the information deeply to analyze the concepts or apply the content to new situations. Since I don’t have much experience teaching reading, I turned to my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Shettel. Jen is a literacy professor and has run several tremendously successful close-reading workshops in our area. I figured she could give some advice. Our conversations prompted some pedagogical experimentation with different literacy-based strategies which Jen and I will be sharing in a preconference workshop at The Teaching Professor Conference this June.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Teaching and Learning
Faculty mentorship is widely seen as an important factor in a successful undergraduate education. A recent 2018 Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, “Mentoring College Students To Success” shows that successful faculty mentorship is critical in encouraging students to pursue their careers and dreams. Yet, only 64 percent of students had a mentor and the number is less for underrepresented groups. As faculty, how can we connect to students outside the classroom beyond merely hoping they show up to office hours?
“What do the readings have to do with class?” “Why do we even have to do the readings?”
After spending more than a decade supporting college faculty in teaching, I have heard students utter these statements numerous times. I often observe classes and conduct mid-course focus groups with students. It continues to surprise me that students regularly question how the readings connect to class. Certainly, instructors would not be assigning readings that had nothing to do with the course! Given how much we worry about students not doing the readings, why would we assign unrelated readings? Yet, frequently, in courses in different disciplines, I’ve heard this type of feedback from students, “We don’t understand the readings, they have nothing to do with what we talk about in class.”
I was wrapping up a presentation on memory and learning when a colleague asked, “How do we help students learn in courses where there’s a lot of memorization?” He explained that he taught introductory-level human anatomy, and although the course wasn’t all memorization, it did challenge students’ capacity to retain dozens of new terms and concepts.
“My grandmother fell down on her patio and I had to go stay with her for a few days and she does not have internet or a computer and all of my research was in my dorm room …”
When students are unable to comply with some aspect of an academic task (e.g. due date, assignment length, quality of work), there is potential for them to communicate reasons as to why they were unable to complete the task to their instructor. At this point the students have a choice, in which case they can either provide legitimate reasons for not being able to complete or to submit their coursework, or they can communicate something which is a deliberate attempt to deceive the instructor. A student may communicate information designed to deceive or construct a fraudulent claim to an instructor in order to avoid the undesirable consequences (e.g. a bad grade that may hurt the student’s overall standing in a class) of not complying with the academic task. Roig and Caso (2005) found that the frequency of which providing fraudulent claims occurs in an academic environment is approximately equal to, if not greater than, more commonly identified forms of academic dishonesty such as cheating and plagiarism. Ferrari et al. (1998) indicated that fraudulent claim making was utilized by as many as 70% of American college students. However, this phenomenon has received limited empirical attention in recent time in comparison to other forms of academically dishonest behavior.
A few years ago, my colleague Brenda Whitney spoke at a workshop about how class discussion can take on many different forms, each with its own style and descriptive moniker. Paraphrasing and borrowing language from her handout, with a few revisions of my own, these discussion styles include:
Plagiarism seems like a clear-cut crime: if the words of another author appear in one’s writing without appropriate attribution, that writer has “stolen” those words. U.S. higher education institutions take the offense seriously: minor cases often result in probation, suspension, or expulsion. This black-and-white perspective toward plagiarism, however, does not effectively identify, prevent, or resolve writing issues.
“Any questions?” “Is everybody with me?” “Does this make sense?” I have asked my students these vague types of questions many times and the most common response was…silence. But how should I interpret the silence? Perhaps the students understand everything completely and therefore have no questions. Maybe they have questions but are afraid to ask them out of fear of looking stupid. Or it could mean that they are so lost they don’t even know what to ask! Only our boldest students would say; “Um, you lost me 10 minutes ago, can you repeat the whole thing again?”
The Teaching Assistant (TA) job is typically filled by an upper-level university student or graduate student. It’s a job that requires one to play several different roles. First and foremost, the TA is a student and must complete all responsibilities to maintain this status. Second, the TA has a responsibility to the hiring professor. To the professor, the TA is the assistant and must abide by the requirements set out by the professor. Third, the TA has a responsibility to the students in the class. The role here is that of teacher, tutor, and occasionally advisor.
“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
– Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder