On June 19, 2018, I had the opportunity to attend an AAC&U Webinar entitled:
It caught my eye because of the presenters, as fantastic people who have important things to say on the topic of teaching techniques and because of the quality of everything I have ever seen AAC&U produce.
The presenters were as follows:
They each started out with an overview of how they see teaching and learning.
Barkley sees college teaching techniques as a way to make learning about teaching and learning more digestible. She recommends we consider breaking these big ideas and extensive research into bite-sized chunks. She used a recipe metaphor in thinking about how to grow our skills and knowledge about teaching.
Bowen said that we need to look for ways to design our instruction in such a way that our students do the work, instead of us taking on the entire burden. He showed us a picture of a really buff guy and compared that to how we think about our own research. We may love doing 200 pushups at a time, while our students may just be tackling their first few and experiencing challenges we have long since forgotten.
“We are content experts and students are on the outside.” We have to think about the entry point for them into our subject matter.
Howell Major shared how complex teaching is… We need to consider how we:
- Analyze learners
- Set goals
- Select content
- Choose approaches
- Identify assessments
“To be able to do these base level things and to be able to do them really well, teachers have to have a special kind of knowledge.”
Pedagogical content knowledge
“Where really great teaching happens is in the middle part, where the two things come together.”
How do faculty learn how to teach more effectively?
- Trial and error
Another way to deepen that pedagogical knowledge is through educational research.
Q. Is there a particular technique for student engagement that you have seen work in a lot of different contexts?
A. Barkley – Teaching and learning is more complex and is a larger task than a single technique. I introduce techniques with a framework that refers more of a design approach. Have to attend to many elements, including: motivation, active learning, create tasks that were challenging – but not too hard, valued as a part of a community, and addressing cognitive and social emotional elements.
One technique that works is the contemporary issues journal. Connect them to the themes within the course.
Q. What would you say is the most valuable thing that higher education has to offer students in terms of learning and how can we ensure that students can have access to that learning?
A. Bowen – “We are in the change business.” Great teachers should want to make themselves obsolete. Most of what they need to know, we can’t teach them anyway. Learning how to change is vital. Learning how to change one’s mind. This happens in a course, and across a campus. How do students become more self-regulated in their learning, how to change themselves?
Neuroscience helps us think about teaching. The flight or flight reflex impacts our ability to learn. The techniques we are talking about help more at-risk students. There’s a disproportional benefit to transparency, for example, to at-risk students.
Q. Lecturing has been demonized. What are your thoughts on the research on active learning vs lecturing.
A. Howell Major – All lecture (100% lecture) is compared to lecture plus active learning. That’s what is most often being compared. What happens if you add active learning to your lecture? Straight lecture benefits more traditional white male students, but even those students do better with active learning. More marginalized students benefit even more.
What the research helps us see is not what works (for sure), but what could work. Collecting data helps us see who these approaches are working best for…
She spends a lot of time thinking about both what she is doing as the teacher and what the students are doing, as learners. When she is lecturing, for example, she offers guided note taking tools for her students to use to help them stay engaged.
Bowen recommended using a cognitive wrapper to promote metacognition, in class, and handing back the papers with ten minutes to go… and asking them to read the feedback on the assignment and reflect on it.
Q. How do you address students who don’t care as much about our areas of expertise as we do, as researchers?
A. Barkley – “Caring is something that we really want students to feel.” This is a normal desire to have. The digital story technique is one approach she has used to help students care more about the content. The immigration story is one topic they tackle and create a short video.
Bowen – Stressed how this applies in online environment, as well. He encouraged a digital presence as a means for demonstrating that you care, even in a class that is in person. Facebook groups, video profiles of ourselves, getting to know our students.
“Transparency helps students understand why we are doing things.” When we do discussions, for example, it is important to talk about why we are asking students to undertake that effort and to engage in that way.
Q. How to you address differentiated instruction (the need to address learners of all levels of knowledge and motivation?
A. Barkley – teaches at an open institution in the community college system. “We take the top 100% of students who apply.” She looks at her learning goals and identifies different ways that students might address that particular goal. Another technique drawn from the K-12 system is to set aside 30 minutes in her online sessions for students to do the differentiated work to do what they need to do at their particular level.
Q. With the recent challenges that have come up in areas of psychological research (Stanford prison experiment, marshmallow study, etc.), what areas of educational research do you feel like could use more of a critical lens to be applied to it?
A. Barkley – stressed that there hasn’t been enough research on techniques that are not effective. Group work is supposed to be good, for example, but what about when it doesn’t go well. Can it undermine learning?
Howell Major – stated that this kind of research does have flaws. Typically done at one institution, doesn’t take different variables into account. Researchers attribute causation to something that is only correlation. We have found out some techniques that do work well in some contexts that we can then try out in our teaching. She also stressed the importance of the questions being asked in this body of research. “If we ask more nuanced questions, that can take us to the next level.”
Bowen – “20 years ago, we were all about learning styles and now we know, uh, not so much.” We all learn in varied ways and no one learns how to play tennis by just watching, as an example.
Q. These techniques take time. How do we address that as a concern?
A. Bowen – “Do you want to cover the content, or do you want students to learn the content?” He revisited the gym analogy and encouraged us to design workouts that students can do when they aren’t in the gym – more able to connect with them in their contexts. Read chapter 2 vs find a relative who has a disease that is mentioned in chapter 2. The way we frame what students will do out of class is vital in our teaching.
Howell Major – shared about some research on students who got 80% of the content for the class and how they did as well as those who got 100% of the content.
Thanks to AAC&U for an excellent webinar and to all the presenters. I was more engaged during this session than I have been in a long time when participating in something while sitting in front of my computer with its many potential distractions.