I've been away for the past week, visiting California and my oldest daughter who is 2/3 of the way through her first semester. A few thoughts piled up. Here they are, in no certain order (and without any promise of value):
1. Disneyland and the first-semester of college can have the same impact on teenagers. We spent two days at Disneyland along with about 20 members of my wife's family. Disneyland is an amplifier. It heightens things for good or ill. Food costs more, crowds are more crowdy, fun is funner, anxiety is more troubling. Everyone knows this. But being there with my college-age daughter, and talking with her about her feelings about college, reminded me that college, especially in the first year, does exactly the same thing. Disagreements escalate, uncertainty becomes paralysis, confidence becomes certainty. What should colleges do with the amplification?
2. Faculty need to make more mistakes. Neil Postman suggested in The End of Education that faculty could improve student learning by making mistakes on purpose when teaching. Students would learn by truth-testing their faculty. Just before break I gave my students an assignment but with the rubric for another assignment included. Interesting responses from my students--a couple tried mightily to fit their assignment into the wrong rubric. A couple pointed out my error. But most went along with the assignment as if nothing was wrong...
3. Student evaluations of faculty may become obsolete. As faculty focus more on student learning, student evaluations of faculty may make less sense. This is especially the case when faculty use student-centered pedagogies--problem-based learning, collaborative learning, etc. The student evaluation hardly touches at all on the work faculty do in these settings.
4. Gratitude is much more important for learning than we credit it for. Or perhaps more correctly, ingratitude impedes learning. Ingratitude locates obstacles outside of the learner--I can't learn because of the teacher, or the course, or the subject, or the school--and because those external obstacles can't be controlled, learning dies.
Thanks to all of you.