Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving week odds and ends

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.

1 comment:

lionofzion said...

Here's my question: if the student evaluation becomes obsolete, what is it replaced with? How do we measure if the teaching strategy has been effective? Simply by looking at assessment results? Or by a pre-test, post-test system to see what new skills were developed?

Maybe student evaluation just needs to take a new tack-- students should be clued into the student-centered strategies the teacher is using ("Your learning in this class will be up to you") and throughout the course students will evaluate their own progress in developing new ways to approach problems, etc. These evaluations will show whether students are making their own learning. If they're not, the method is not effective for them.

Or what about a gratitude-centered method of student evaluation, where students are pushed towards looking at all the positive influences their professors have had. Evaluation builds awareness, so gratitude-focused evaluation might make students more grateful for all that their professors do, and therefore more likely to learn.