Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Teaching strategies that illustrate the employment value of the humanities

Reader Brian Domino writes, asking for examples of pedagogical strategies that :

I am a member of a “Valuing the Humanities Task Force” at Miami University. Like many  other folks, we’re working to show students the value of studying the humanities. It occurred to me that while both alumni in business and humanities faculty extol the “real world” skills that the humanities teach, our students might not realize that they are learning useful business skills in humanities classes because most of us do not identify when we are teaching particular skills. For the past year, I have been a member of a several nursing search committees. In their teaching presentations, the candidates almost always stated clearly “Now we’re going to learn to think critically. Let’s begin by defining it.” I am wondering whether doing something similar in humanities classes might not help our students more clearly see the value of the humanities, and you came to mind as the best person to ask for some help.
I would like to collect teaching strategies that could be shared with faculty members in the humanities to do this. For example, I no longer ask students to write “concise summaries” but instead couch the assignment in “real world” terms: Imagine that your boss has asked you to summarize these articles. She’s a busy executive, so she needs the summaries to be crisply written, but she’s counting on you to inform her of the important points. Failure to do so could make her look bad in a meeting, and cost you your job.” I am also experimenting with using grammar and writing web sites that focus on how writing well is important in business (e.g., “10 flagrant grammatical mistakes that make you look stupid”).
 I do think it's an excellent idea to point concretely at examples of humanities tasks that exemplify the kinds of things employers desire. One thing I sometimes emphasize is that in order to master a skill at level n, you actually have to practice it at level n+1. So employers desire people who can read and synthesize complex texts. But it's almost inconceivable that an employer would ever ask a student to read and synthesize a text as complex or forbidding as Kant. So the high level, n+1 thinking we do in the humanities classroom can be preparation for the n-level thinking required in the workplace.

But does anyone have suggestions or examples for Brian, of teaching strategies we can use to show students that humanities education is vocationally valuable??

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Approaching the dreaded 'I deserve a better grade' conversation

No one looks forward to that conversation with a student seeking a better grade. Maryellen Weimer at Faculty Focus has some good advice. Most centrally, she's emphasizes being open to the student's case for a better grade and figuring out how to make the enterprise a learning experience for both students and instructors. I appreciated these remarks in particular:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Students Making Comments about One's Appearance

I'm not sure if there is much to say about this, but I wonder how others deal with students making comments about their appearance. Sometimes I have students who comment on whether I have new shoes, my hair is different, they like my shirt, etc. The comments are never really offensive or hugely inappropriate; if they came from a friend I wouldn't think twice about them. But sometimes they do throw me off and make me feel self-conscious, especially when they are made at the beginning of class. I try to dress as uncontroversially for class as possible, plain pants, button-down shirt, "sensible" shoes. So I think part of it really just is student's curiosity about me as a person and trying to have some sort of more personal interaction. So, I'm not entirely sure if I should stop it by saying something about it or just ignore it as they are not made with ill intent.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On Assessment

Philosopher Steven Hales recently published an article at the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Who's Assessing the Assessors' Assessors?" There is much worth thinking about here. In my experience, most faculty find outcomes assessment to be at best tedious, and are suspicious of the need, methodology, and even the motives for it. According to Hales, this sort of assessment is an "epistemological quagmire," and concludes that "the mavens of outcomes assessment do exactly the wrong thing—they pretend to have some other method that is the royal road to truth when, prey to the same doubts, it is no more than the path to ignorance."

I think the philosophical points raised by Hales are compelling, though it is the case that at least some faculty do not grade in such a manner that can be characterized as an accurate assessment of the work and progress made by a student over the course of the semester relative to the course objectives. It seems pretty clear that outcomes assessment is here to stay, such that relying on grades given by faculty will not stand alone as a method of assessment. However, Hales has offered a strong case that outcomes assessment over and above course grades is deeply problematic.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Experts as teachers, revisited

About two years ago, I asked in this e-space whether knowing too much about a given subject might be an impediment to teaching that subject. In other words, is expertise sometimes a barrier to teaching effectively?

I hypothesized that it can be when mastery of the subject comes too easily (making it difficult to relate to those who struggle to master it all) or when the instructor is simply "too close" to the material to be able to conceputalize it through more naive eyes.

Turns out that there's something to this worry: Experts in a given subject often have what some researchers call a "pedagogical blind spot" for that very subject.

Thursday, March 7, 2013