Thursday, September 29, 2011

According to him...according to her

Here is a common experience in introductory-level courses. There you are, teaching Mill or Aristotle, or Nagel, or Anscombe...what have you. You are working hard to motivate and make clear the positions under scrutiny. But you have one, or two, or three students who will inevitably follow your description of the position with "...according to him..." or "according to her..."

So, you say something like: "Involving another person in a scheme or a plan that she couldn't or wouldn't rationally consent to if she knew the whole story is to use her will in a way that disrespects her autonomy." And then from the corner of the room, you hear a student mutter, "...according to him," (referring here to Kant, of course).

I pride myself on being an empathetic and patient teacher, especially of beginning students. But I have to say that this particular piece of classroom behavior drives me to fits of catastrophic irrationality. Catastrophic because I find it so unrelentingly annoying that I can't even articulate why it drives me so nutty.

So, fellow teachers: 1) help me by speculating about why I find this behavior so distracting and unproductive; 2) do you have a particular strategy for this particular phenomenon? Is it successful or not? Why or why not...I mean, that is, according to you...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some simple tips to improve student participation

Our good friends at the Faculty Focus blog share some easy tips for broadening the number of students who participate in class:
  1. "Recognize that the norms that establish who speaks in a course are set early in the course and that the teacher plays an important role in setting these norms. Politely refuse to call on students who have already spoken two or three times. 'Thank you, but we need to hear from others.” Walk to a different part of the room and speak directly to those students. “I haven’t heard from any of you folks. Please share your thoughts.'"
  2. "Wait. Research is very clear: Teachers frequently overestimate how long they wait after asking a question before doing something else. Let there be silence. Students who are not as articulate or self-confident often need more time to frame an answer."
This next one is one I hadn't heard of, but I like the idea very much. Has anyone tried it?
      3."Use the three-hand rule and don’t call on anyone until there are three hands raised."

I'd be interested in hearing from others some successful ideas for improving student participation. Here are a few of my own:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 13

Their pupils and their little charges are not nourished and fed by what they learn: the learning is passed from hand to hand with only one end in view: to show it off, to put into our accounts to entertain others with it, as though it were merely counters, useful for totting up and producing statements, but having no other use or currency. ‘Apud alios loqui didicerunt, non ipsi secum’ [They have learned how to talk with others, not with themselves]

 -- Michel de Montaigne

Revisiting in-class technology use policies

We've reflected often here at ISW about the challenges of technology and pedagogy, both for we instructors and for our students. One of the stickiest issues, of course, is students using their 'devices' in class. I'd be interested to hear an update on what your policy is on cell phones, laptops, etc.

My policy statement from my syllabus is below the fold. You'll note it's not really a policy — more of a statement of principle and an indication of the issue's seriousness. Feedback welcome!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Evaluating student learning without student evaluations

Even though I'm less skeptical than others about the validity of standardized student evaluations, I share many of the common reservations about them: that they are often poorly designed, asking students what they are in no position to evaluate; that they reflect, to some extent, students' grade expectations; that small differences in instructor evaluations probably do not measure significant differences in instructors' effectiveness; that they are influenced by irrelevant factors like instructor gender; that students are actually not honest when they complete them; that their usual timing (at the end of the term) influences the results.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Quotable Teacher, installment 12

Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play—work you do so easily that it restores you as you go.

— Mark Edmundson

An Instant Classic?

I don't know what else to say about Mark Edmundson's essay on the purpose of college in the Oxford American — except that I love it. It's moving, heartfelt, and true. Its main claims are (1) the true value of college is in confronting texts and traditions that know you better than you know yourself, and in so doing, bring about self-understanding, and (2)  the disengagement compact is an obstacle to realizing this value, compelling those who seek this value to go looking for it during their college years by "making trouble".

Some tidbits I particularly liked:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

'Interaction,' experts, and learners

One of my reservations about group work (and many other techniques that turn on students interacting with students) is that there's a fair amount of evidence that when non-experts interact with other non-experts, learning suffers. Faculty Focus reports on a study of interaction in online courses: