Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Are They Learning? And How?

In my previous column, I wrote about the importance of tailoring your teaching to your students. In particular, I advocated listening to students, canvassing them to learn about their prior knowledge, their misconceptions, their associations. As a few readers pointed out in the article’s comments, such advice is perhaps more easily offered than followed.

The idea of starting a discussion by asking students what they know, and don’t know, about a topic gets more and more difficult as class sizes go up. In a lecture hall with 200 students, opening class by asking, “now what do you all know about pre-industrial America?” may not be the most effective strategy. Class time, as well, is an issue. Most instructors have a lot of ground to cover over the semester, and not enough time to handle it all. Adding in time for informal chats about students’ prior knowledge and current understanding may feel impossible.

So how do we respond to our students’ needs in a way that leaves room for other pedagogical priorities? What we’re looking for here are practical ways to elicit and make use of quality student feedback. We want to learn from students the information—about what they knew beforehand, what they've learned from us, and what they still don’t understand—that will help us teach more effectively. Providing students with ways to give us that information not only helps us tailor our teaching, it helps them become more aware of themselves as learners. That, in turn, can help them better achieve their goals.

Read the article What Are They Learning? And How?

For help with implementing these strategies, please contact fits@depauw.edu

How Rural Schools Paid for Students' Home Internet to Transform Learning

Like many districts serving low-income populations, it was fairly easy for Piedmont City School District officials in Alabama to find funds for devices. District officials wanted to leverage technology to open up opportunities for the 1,240 students in this rural community, so they started sending devices home with kids in grades 4-12 in 2009 through a program they call mPower Piedmont. However, lack of access to the Internet after school and in kids’ homes became a major obstacle to learning with those devices.

At first, teachers tried to work around Internet limitations, letting students download what they’d need for work at home before they left school. Teachers also helped students find places in the community that had free Internet, like restaurants. Downloading content worked for some things, but it didn't allow students to truly take advantage of digital tools, like interacting with peers, accessing flipped instruction or conducting online research, said Matt Akin, Piedmont’s superintendent, in an edWeb webinar.

“It was really not fair to say this homework requires Internet access, and if you don’t have it, go to McDonald’s,” Akin said. “But it was the only option that we had.”

At first, to compensate for disparities in Internet connections, many local businesses cooperated with the district and allowed students to use the Internet at their establishments. However, it was difficult for students without independent transportation to get themselves around town. Late one night, when Akin was leaving the middle school, he saw students sitting on the steps of the school trying to use its Internet. That’s when he knew they needed to devise another solution.

Read the article How Rural Schools Paid for Students’ Home Internet to Transform Learning.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations...stories of mixed-heritage people and families, cultural hybridity, race, ethnicity and identity

The Brooklyn Historical Society is creating a digital collection of oral histories of people with mixed-heritage. The collection will be complete in January 2015 and will eventually offer a free curriculum.

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Dignity in Retirement is Not Too Much to Ask

Interesting Chronicle piece about the challenges and benefits of faculty retirement.

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Why a college degree shouldn't be a commodity

On a recent episode of NBC's prime-time drama Parenthood, Drew, the lovable grandson in need of a haircut, struggled with an age-old decision: declaring a major. Coming from a low-income, single-parent household, he felt obligated to choose a practical course of study--economics--that would guarantee him a paycheck. Forget his passion for the arts. He, like so many students, had the bug placed in his ear that college is strictly a means to an end.

Of course, getting a job is critical, especially in the era of five-figure student loan debt. There are tons of kids just like Drew, for whom a solid job after graduation is key to financial security for them and their families. And the government, perhaps in recognition of this reality, has called on colleges to do more to prepare students for the workforce. But that agenda is increasingly overshadowing the point of an education beyond being a direct pipeline to a job.

In its latest Survey of Young Workers, the Federal Reserve said educational programs should be aligned with the needs of the labor market for students to get the most out of their education. That's the sort of philosophy that underpins the Obama administration's push for students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Graduates with STEM degrees are indeed more likely than their peers to have a job, according to a recent Census Bureau report.

Meanwhile, policymakers are deriding liberal arts studies as having little value. President Obama took a shot at the humanities earlier this year, when he said Americans would be better off pursuing a skilled trade than an art history degree.

It's true that liberal arts majors don't always have an easy career path, but researchers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that over time they are employed at the same rates and can earn similar salaries as people with professional degrees.

Read the article Why a college degree shouldn't be a commodity here...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In the Classroom, One Size Does Not Fit All

. . . If you really want to make sure that all students have the chance to maximize their learning, you need to tailor your teaching to the ones sitting in front of you. That means finding out how much they know about a topic, trying to discover how they learn best (and encouraging them to discover for themselves), and figuring out how the particular group dynamic in your class affects learning. It may also mean diverging from the usual way you do things.

So the next time you stand in the front of a classroom, instead of starting the way you usually do—however you usually do—begin instead by talking with your students. Ask them about their experiences with your subject before they enrolled in your course. Ask them what they think about the syllabus topics that you haven’t gotten to yet. Try to uncover their misconceptions, confusions, and prejudices. Take a little time, in every class period, through formal or informal means, to really listen to your students, and let that shape how you teach . . .

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Campus and Classroom Climates for Diversity

The most recent issue of Diversity & Democracy (Fall 2014, Vol. 17, No. 4) has a selection of articles on campus climate and diversity. Diversity and Democracy is published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. 

Read the article...