So, what is a class for anyway?

This piece, entitled “Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th-Century,” and published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (you can read it here) challenges the idea that the classroom is the best place to deliver content.

If this is true, what becomes the purpose of a residential college classroom? Are our classes merely a “handy framework” that students must pass through to get to their real “learning” in internships, study abroad, etc.? Is all the “stuff” that happens outside of the classroom really where they learn the most?

I challenge this. We can transform the classroom.

And if we were to transform the classroom. What would it look like? What have you done to transform your classroom experience?


13 Responses to So, what is a class for anyway?

  1. Robin Armstrong says:

    If course content were only about knowledge and facts, then this argument is valid. Residential classes / going to class becomes essential when the course content becomes what to do with the knowledge. Analyzation skills, critical thinking skills, writing skills (for humanities classes), plus all those skills in the social sciences and ‘hard’ sciences need class time to develop.

    Over the course of the last couple of years, Gretchen has been writing on this blog about how she’s transforming and struggling with the transformation of classes from lecture based to activity based. I’ve made similar transitions in my classes. Students interact in small and large group discussions, work on writing skills, and other methods of processing the material that they come into the class room with.

    There are so many different platforms available to students from which to gain factual knowledge and interpreted knowledge. But the learning that goes on in their own processing of this material needs to be done with guidance. I hope that we (teachers)can continue do the guiding rather than the loud mouthed folks in the various media outlets that have axes to grind and tea parties to organize….

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I had a post recently, too, about what to do in a class where the principle way to teach it is by lecture. If they can go to Google Art or any number of podcasts, what do they need me for? What can I do in a face to face residential classroom environment for an introductory class that a podcast can’t?

      I’m still struggling with that one.

  2. Deb Lemke says:

    We must not forget that learning is not a uni-dimensional activity. We all learn different content in different ways. There is a place for traditional lecture, for activity based learning, and for learning outside the classroom. I believe (and strive for) a multi-dimensional learning environment what blends different content delivery methods appropriate to the content. One size will never fit all. Technology can become the tail-that-wagged-the-dog.

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I would like to see more linkage with those activities that are outside the classroom. I know that takes a lot of talking – communication – planning. What not. But I do wonder if the links are readily apparent, unless the internship is, say, in the major program. Then the links are evident.

  3. Bob Trader says:

    What is higher education supposed to do to me? <– This is kind of a weird question, no? I am not sure that I want higher education to do something to people.

    How about: what is higher education supposed to do for me? <– I like this question better. It appeals to my self interest. It makes higher education empowering, which I tend to believe it is.

    It gave me the opportunity to encounter ideas, cultures, works, lifestyles, and people that I wouldn't have been able to encounter anywhere else quite so easily. This happened in the classroom and on campus as well as off campus.

    Higher education inspired me to do more than I had believed was possible. I lived in other countries. I held a variety of jobs. I am receptive to change, and I am not afraid to take informed risks.

    Higher education helped me embrace change. After learning how things change over time, I became less worried about changes within and around me. I could adapt and even thrive as the world moved forward. I stopped clinging to a vanishing past that may have never existed.

    Higher education enabled me to see patterns. I gained a systems view from higher education. I can see the big picture, how things work and how things can be improved.

    But it didn't give me on the job training skills. It did give me the tools to pick these skills up quickly and to be able to find better ways to do things. Community College is more about skills training than higher education, no? So, why criticize higher education for something it isn't supposed to do?

    I didn't learn anything. Rather I learned how to learn everything. Actually, I do remember completely random facts, but is that really learning? Hey, I rock at Trivial Pursuit! YEAH!

    I didn't learn how to be a better person. But, I did learn to be more tolerant of others and not worry about whether they are right or I am right. I really don't need to be in other people's business if it doesn't really affect me. I do actually believe that in higher ed we could discuss more about ethics and morality though.

    I didn't become God Emperor of the Universe! At least, not yet…

  4. gretchenmckay says:

    So you want to be a DIVINE Emperor of the Universe? A simple Emperor of the Universe won’t do?

  5. Madeline says:

    The article references data from NSSE that “Four of the eight “high-impact” learning activities identified by survey participants required no classroom time at all: internships, study-abroad programs, senior thesis or other “capstone” projects, or the mundane-sounding “undergraduate research,” meaning working with faculty members on original research, much as graduate students do.”

    Agreed, these activities do not directly require classroom time, but presumably the time they spent in classrooms helped them to prepare and get the most out of these activities? If a student wants to conduct a research project with me, they have to have had certain courses that I know will have provided them with the foundational knowledge they need to think about and plan a research project. So, it isn’t just facts that they need to have gotten from the course, but also how to think critically and put those facts into practice.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that, for whatever reason, students aren’t making the connections between what they are gaining in the classroom and the other activities they are engaging in. So, how do we help them to make these connections? And, how much of this making the connections should be the responsibility of the students themselves so that they can take ownership of their education?

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I wholeheartedly agree, Madeline. I’m not at all sure that “connections” are being made. Interestingly that was one of the reasons we shifted the curriculum – to have them make more connections. I wonder if SIS courses are helping in this effort. I think more needs to be pointed out to them as they are doing it – though often that idea is scoffed. My students do a lot of critical thinking exercises in class. If I ask them “Did you realize you were doing critical thinking?, ” they often say something akin to, “We did?” Sigh.

      • Robin Armstrong says:

        I think you are right that we should tell the students more often what kinds of skills they are learning – i keep hoping that it guides their future activities and will make them more successful. I do too often assume that they understand why we have them do things, and then find out they don’t. I’d like to make that shift in habits and tell them more.

  6. Deb Vance says:

    So many excellent points have already been made, but I have a few to add.

    I wonder if what they’re calling “education” in that article in the Chronicle would more appropriately be called job training. If what one does is deliver information and then test on it, then maybe she can do so via lecture, whether live or recorded, and Power Point summaries. That seems more like “facts you should know.” I daresay whoever is leading such a class is probably burned out and needs a serious vacation and time to think and plan. Perhaps the reporter should’ve done a story on course load?

    But let’s take the premise at face value and compare teaching to live drama. Stage plays can be filmed with no sound and in black and white. Or they can be delivered via radio with no pictures. Or filmed with sound and in color, or televised and shown with commercial interruptions. And music can be recorded and played in high fidelity. But anyone, whether performer or audience member, will tell you that the live performance has an energy and spontaneity missing in the mediated ones. Would you exchange seeing your loved ones in person for talking with them via Skype? How about if I toss in email follow-ups and occasional phone calls?

    There’s something – and I’ll call it an energy – that exists in a live, in person learning community that gets lost in translation to mediated instruction. Sure, it’s an okay delivery system for certain kinds of information. But try reaching consensus with a group of people on the internet. Or even serious brainstorming, feeding off each other’s ideas. Even in real time, even using Skype. There’s a subtlety in the human presence that just hasn’t been scientifically measured yet and that’s missing in on-line instruction.

    To answer your question, what should a classroom experience look like: It should be collaborative, interactive, full of questions and activities. It should be able to take a diversion and follow an unplanned avenue. It should be experimental and unafraid. It should be full of opportunities for camaraderie and bonding. When they develop a holographic experience that can teleport us into the same virtual space, maybe then it’ll be as good as a classroom can be.

    • Deb Vance says:

      I need to remark that when I’m posting it isn’t 2:15 a.m. on March 1, as is indicated above, but 9:16 p.m. on Feb. 28. I don’t want you to think I’m up all night on the CFE blog! (it is indeed interesting — but not THAT much!)

      • gretchenmckay says:

        If I start posting things at 2:15 AM on any day, please, someone stage an intervention for me. Indeed, I would be the first to admit it is *not* that riveting!

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