Lecture Me–Really?

You may have seen the recent New York Times op-ed piece by Molly Worthen, in which she defends the “traditional lecture” against what she sees as pedagogical threats posed by “the active learning craze” and a “populist resentment of experts.” The essay lit up social media in academic circles, and was shared and re-posted widely. Worthen certainly speaks to the things professors value: students who can take good notes, model critical argument, and learn to listen both closely and deeply.  Her argument that “comprehension and reasoning,” the two bedrock skills for “the essentials of working life and citizenship,” are the products of lecturing done well appeals to the content-geek in all of us. Who among us doesn’t have a vision of ourselves up on stage, waxing erudite about the intricacies of our discipline to an admiring throng of students hanging raptly upon our every word? Worthen’s call to return to the lecture and rediscover the essentials of a humanistic education is a seductive argument indeed. Continue reading “Lecture Me–Really?”

Doing Things Differently, or Doing Different Things?

The new tools of teaching are going to revolutionize the role of the professor in the classroom. Gone are the days in which the teacher occupies center stage–this new technology replaces traditional classroom instruction. Soon, students will learn via the screen, and our role as faculty will be rendered obsolete. Technology changes everything, but is change always good?

This was the conversation when televisions and VCRs became prevalent in classrooms.

You look surprised.

Did you think I was talking about something else? Continue reading “Doing Things Differently, or Doing Different Things?”

Thinking about Structures

On Wednesday, over a dozen faculty and staff came to Conversations on Teaching* to talk about power and privilege in the classroom. Our discussion kept coming back to structures; what kind of structures are already in place, and what structures might we be reproducing, that put up barriers to students’ learning? It was a powerful conversation (pun partially intended), one that opened a lot of avenues of thought about what it is we do with and for our students. (You can access the slides from this session here: Language and Motivation, Privilege and Power, and the references and further reading are here.) In the spirit of continuing that conversation, this week’s links offer some resources, food for thought, and even challenges as we work to discern the structures in higher education that prevent us and our students from being as successful as we should be.  Continue reading “Thinking about Structures”

Surprise! It’s October!

SurprisedCatIs it just me, or is the semester going by really fast? (Note: I have posed this rhetorical question at the five-week mark of every semester in my teaching career.) As we stagger make our way toward midterms, our classes are finding their rhythms–their patterns and identity–as we and our students become more familiar with one another and with the work at hand. In many cases, this is a really positive development; students have gelled with one another, discussions have become less stilted and more open and honest, and we’re finally able to remember everyone’s name. But in some instances, the rhythm isn’t established yet. Or the class has taken on less-than-ideal characteristics–students are sullen, or belligerent, or just plain flat. If you’re in that spot (and, honestly, who among us hasn’t been?), the good news is there’s still time to turn things around. In some cases, the answer to our problems is to relax the reins a little bit, especially if discussion is the main area in which our class is struggling. It may seem counter-intuitive, but letting go may be the answer to regaining pedagogical balance. Have we over-planned? Are we creating structures that stifle students rather than empower them? Do they have room to try (and maybe even fail) to accomplish the course goals? In this thoughtful essay, Chris Friend explores what it means to “let go,” listen to our students, and let them wander rather than channel them into specific places. Sometimes the way to regain control is to give it up. Continue reading “Surprise! It’s October!”

Instructions Not Provided

When I taught my first class, I had that sinking feeling that everyone else had somehow gotten an instruction manual while I was left to drift on my own, awash in a sea of skeptical students. I had a similar reaction when I became a parent: where are the damn instructions? I don’t know what to do. Someone could get hurt here! Alas, as all you parents out there can testify, there is no instruction manual–and the books that present themselves as such are WRONG. We are left to figure things out for ourselves. Continue reading “Instructions Not Provided”