Did teaching happen today? Did learning happen today?

This is just a quick post to describe something I began doing last week. One of the, if not the, most frequent negative things said about my courses is that I “don’t teach” anything. In these days of corporate mindset, where students can basically levy any negative criticism they want at faculty and get an audience with a dean level administrator and where faculty can be held responsible for everything from student appearance to student attitude to student anything, I have begun addressing this potential shortcoming head on. In reality, I do want to make sure that teaching happens, but the problem is that most students have a definition of “teaching” that makes me take on all their responsibility. Similarly, they have a definition of “learning” that doesn’t require them to actually do anything. Just today one student was shocked…SHOCKED I tell you…to learn that I really do expect students to check WebAssign for messages every day, even over weekends.

Last week, I began using the last five minutes of class time to pose two question to each class: 1) Did teaching happen today? 2) Did learning happen today? In as non-threatening manner as possible (which is difficult given that in today’s businesslike academic climate anything can pass as threatening), I politely ask them for direct evidence to back up students’ near unanimous claims (some never reply) in the affirmative. If anyone ever says that one or the other or neither happened that day, I can point them to the definitions I gave everyone at the beginning of the semester and ask specifically for the part(s) that I am not upholding so I can make suitable adjustments at the next class meeting. I can also use the daily agreement as evidence that I did indeed fulfill my obligations in case a meeting with the dean happens without my knowledge (as it frequently does, in direct violation of written policy I might add). Well, maybe, since one recent dean actually said that ALL student feedback must be treated as obtained under duress. That’s a nice way to treat students.

In all seriousness, I think it is important to give students the opportunity to openly confront their previously held conceptions of “teaching” and “learning” and to try to change them, ostensibly so they will be better prepared for the four year college or university environment that they think awaits them. I will follow up on weekly reflection/introspection questions (and here …thank you Brian Frank for this wonderful idea!)  with questions like “I know teaching happened because…” and “…is one piece of evidence I have that learning happened.”

As always, I welcome feedback in the form of questions, comments, and constructive criticism.


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