This week, the Chicago Center for Teaching held its annual two-day teaching conference designed to help graduate students learn to be effective teachers and TAs. Today’s plenary lecture was on “Teaching is not learning,” given by Jean-Luc Doumont, who works for a company that specializes in effective communication. The talk was a dynamic introduction to how to think as an instructor and how to create a learner-centered classroom, and I hope the new instructors found it helpful. I found that Jean-Luc provided some bon mots that are useful and/or thought-provoking, so I thought I would share them.
- “You can take care of the students, or you can take care of the material.”
What Jean-Luc meant by this is explained by a diagram he had in his slideshow. In it, he dichotomizes (perhaps too starkly) facilitating vs. lecturing, where lecturing is supposed to be the mode of transmission used when the content is most important – “I have to get through all this content!” The other side of the diagram is “facilitation,” or how you create an atmosphere and construct a course to facilitate student learning – “I have to get these students to learn!” A new instructor might not see the difference between those states – isn’t getting through all the content going to cause the students to learn it?? The answer is, well, probably not. Not if you don’t think about the mode of transmission, and it’s very easy in your first class to focus almost exclusively on the material, rather than considering its reception (and absorption). Lecturing has its place as a pedagogical tool, Continue reading
This is an interesting article about a visit Eric Mazur (he of “peer instruction,” which I discuss here) paid to Vanderbilt University, where the faculty had a chance to experience the “flipped classroom” themselves. One of his key points is that when we consider how we instructors learned to teach, we almost never say that we acquired our knowledge of teaching by passively sitting through lectures, so why do we teach that way? The article also links to a couple videos of Mazur in action.
Last spring, I did a short presentation (on Mazur’s peer instruction) for an event at the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and afterward, I was recruited to become a Teaching Consultant. As a Teaching Consultant (TC), I am one of a handful of graduate students from across the university who have the opportunity to get together and read and talk about pedagogy. We take the knowledge we glean to help other graduate students in their classrooms through workshops and individual consultations. Yesterday, we met to have a discussion about discussions.
Put that way, the topic of conversation is somewhat amusing (especially when you consider that we tried out the technique of leaderless discussion, during which I had to stop the leaderless discussion to discuss how we were discussing – I think we almost drowned in the recursion). Still, it was an interesting meeting, particularly the input from our TCs in the STEM fields. At first blush, you might think that there is no opportunity for students to discuss in a discipline like computer science. The TC described his class, and described the “discussions” as an opportunity for students to respond to questions and also ask for clarification. In other words, the “discussions” were primarily led only at a level that might help the students to remember and understand their readings, but not achieve the higher levels on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains (i.e., application, analysis, evaluation, creation). Continue reading
I have not had much time to update the blog lately, but I was asked by the Social Sciences Division at the University of Chicago to contribute to their blog. You can find the entry here: https://socialsciences.uchicago.edu/blog/student/treasure-hunt-sorts
More on pedagogy later this month! I’ll be part of a panel on flexibility and adjustments in the classroom for the UChicago Workshop on Teaching in the College. Details here: http://teaching.uchicago.edu/?workshops-and-seminars/workshop-on-teaching-in-the-college-2013.html
It’s interesting to me that my brother, Charlie Anderson, and I interact with the same generation, though in vastly different settings. I get the millennials between 18 – 22 years old in the classroom, and he picks up where I left off, training them at his consulting company, Boom Lab. I’ve wondered before just how accurate the pseudo-psychological characterizations of a whole generation could be, considering how many contexts there are for rearing the children of that generation. (Are the sweeping generalizations supposed to be of the sort of middle-of-the-road, middle class, median group? How “entitled” could the millennials raised in poorer environments really be?) And in my experience, even with a segment of the population likely to be middle or upper class, there’s a wide range of attitudes, abilities, and aptitudes.
Charlie has clearly given a lot of thought to how this generation of new workers interact in the workplace, how to harness their particular skills, and maybe rein in certain tendencies. Rather than a pseudopsychology of the millennials, he demonstrates how to evaluate people between 22-25 years old in the very real context of their jobs. It’s an interesting read, thought-provoking and careful to avoid stereotypes: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/173282281.html
It’s been a very long time since I wrote, but my experiments in teaching last year were pretty successful—my students took apart their texts pretty well, they definitely learned how to write better papers over the course of a couple quarters with me, and they really seemed to enjoy class. My ego also survived multiple questionnaires, which were extremely helpful for understanding what techniques (the students thought) worked and what techniques did not. More about what worked will come below.
But not only do I enjoy teaching, I enjoy learning about teaching. This year, I didn’t get a job offer for autumn until it was too late to fit it in my schedule, and so to fill the pedagogical gap, I think I’ll start a new endeavor: I’ll read a book on pedagogy each month, and think about how to apply it to future classes. (I may teach in winter or spring, so the application could be almost immediate!)
Today, I went to a seminar on course design, offered by the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning. One of the most interesting things that came out of the seminar for me was unexpected and only tangentially related to the seminar’s focus on course design. Last year, I read a book called Peer Instruction, by Eric Mazur, a physicist who discovered that, although his students tested well in his large intro courses, their retention and deep understanding of the material wasn’t strong. He came up with a method whereby the students worked together in small groups to learn the material more comprehensively than by rote. He found that this system was especially successful at getting them to understand the abstract concepts behind the particular examples and experiments he’d been showing them, which was key to their retention and ability to more generally apply principles of physics. Continue reading