Nudging Our Way to Semester’s End

surprised koalaThere is one more full week of classes remaining this semester, and the end is near (in the academic sense, at least). The end of the semester bring a lot of opportunities for reflection for both us and our students, as well as to celebrate our accomplishments. As this post goes live, Grand View’s Undergraduate Research Symposium is kicking into gear in the Student Center. If you need a booster shot of motivation, go look at what our students are presenting. There has been some amazing work done this year, and we have a lot to be proud of. In that same vein, a hearty thank-you to Cara Stone and the Library staff for hosting our Faculty/Staff Celebration of Vocation reception yesterday. It’s always exciting to see colleagues’ intellectual, artistic, and scholarly work; my takeaway is that our community does really cool and interesting work. Congratulations to all whose work was on display, and I look forward to seeing next year’s iteration of our community’s scholarly efforts.

This week’s links are a couple of articles united by the idea of a small “nudge” as an effective lever for academic success. First, the New York Times took a break from pompous higher education op-eds to report on researchers’ efforts to address the pronounced educational inequalities that bedevil our society:

researchers have been quietly finding small, effective ways to improve education. They have identified behavioral “nudges” that prod students and their families to take small steps that can make big differences in learning. These measures are cheap, so schools or nonprofits could use them immediately.

While they’re not necessarily world-changing, big-ticket measures, these smaller steps can still make a significant impact, as well as inform the ways in which we shape policy and practice on a larger scale. Sometimes, in our search for sweeping solutions to endemic problems, we can miss the smaller, but also effective, solutions that sit right in front of us. It reminds me of the slogan I’ve seen used by animal shelters: “adopting an animal won’t necessarily change the world, but it will change the world for that animal.”

The same sentiment holds true for our pedagogy. As you are by no doubt aware, our Summer Institute (REGISTER HERE HUZZAH) will feature James Lang, whose new book is all about “small teaching”; that is, small-scale, specific, and easily-implemented changes–informed by learning science–that we can incorporate into our practice that can have significant effects on student learning and success. In other words, “nudges.” His latest series of articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education is drawn from his findings. You can find the latest installment, which talks about giving students more ownership of course material, here.

With all of the talk about change and “innovation” in the air, however, it often seems that an initiative isn’t “worthy” unless it has a seismic impact. But as Josh Eyler, the Director of Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence, points out in this excellent essay, “innovation” often skips the vital steps of discernment and reflection that need to occur at the specific, granular level. Without the “local context” that should inform our thinking, “innovation” with teaching and learning can often be a step back rather than a way forward. Again, the theme is one of nudges rather than tsunamis. Sometimes, the best changes to make are the ones we can make right away–for our classes in a way that’s authentic to our pedagogy and our students.

Hopefully, this is good food for thought as we wrap up another semester and turn our eyes towards new work and new opportunities in the coming year. The CETL staff wishes you an excellent final week of classes!

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And if you’re on Twitter, you should check out @campingwithcats, where the felines have written brilliant and poignant haiku.


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