Reaching Students, Setting Limits

This article from Inside Higher Ed. com offers some suggestions from a professor in Political Science who wanted “to challenge the traditional lecture format without ruining her life,” to quote the introduction to the article.

I was thinking that this article might offer some suggestions to others in different disciplines who are looking to deviate – even if just occasionally – from the lecture model in class. Does this spark any ideas?

This article will be the featured one for discussion in the CFE at 9 AM on Thursday, November 5. Feel free to stop by the CFE that day or leave a comment here if you are not able to join in person.

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One Response to Reaching Students, Setting Limits

  1. Bob Trader says:

    Some thoughts:

    Students used to learn content–a body of knowledge. Post-modernists believe, more or less, that knowledge is in a constant state of becoming, and thus knowledge is really not something substantial enough to be taught. So, then what exactly is education for?

    Education is for learning how to learn in order to promote life long learning habits, skills, and behaviors. This sounds good on paper, but the question is really then how learning works. How do we define learning, and then how do we optimize the learning process?

    Content can be disseminated and memorized through some combination of lecture and discussion. There has to be some foundational information upon which higher order thinking builds. This foundational information comes from the past–prior knowledge, prior experiences, and the prior knowledge stored within communication artifacts (books, media, the research literature…). This foundational knowledge comes through exploring existing theories and ideas, reading other people’s accounts, through learning the vocabulary, constructs, and conjectures associated with some phenomena.

    Yet, there is a need to test what came before and see if it it is still relevant to the now and to the future. Thus, education is in part teaching people to be better thinkers and to be better researchers. We know that are senses and our logic can deceive us. Our senses are hardwired to see things in a certain way (optical illusions for example). Our logic (that little voice inside our head) finds patterns in meaningless data (apophenia). Hopefully, education helps us to learn to think more critically, and to ask and answer questions in a better way. This is perhaps best enabled through more interactive types of pedagogy. Have students go out into the world and interact with it, record their observations, reflect upon the process, disseminate what they have discover orally and in writing, get feedback, go through the process again and again…

    Why we need a good foundation:

    0 + 0 = 0. Two people discussing something that they know nothing about is really just promoting ignorance. Of course people are not blank slates, but thinking is more shallow when there has been less time for reflection and preparation.

    0 + 1 = 1. Again, this is not optimal, but is the pattern with lectures. There will be some improvement in the 0 (student), but not so much improvement in the 1 (instructor).

    1 + 1 = 3. This is optimal, but requires 1) flexibility [a willingness to take the time to listen and try to make sense out of what someone else is trying to express] and 2) mechanisms that ensure that all parties contribute [that people are prepared, have gone beyond the surface in their thinking, that people are engaged and participating].

    There is no magic formula that will work in all situations for all people. I hope we always strive for improvement. Lectures aren’t inherently evil nor are other types of pedagogy inherently better. Different approaches serve different ends. Hopefully, we will have a better idea of how to match strategies with goals, to pull from an arsenal of pedagogical strategies to use in a given situation or with a given group of people, and to be flexible enough to change strategies if they aren’t working.

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