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Teaching Excellence Center

Circle Summaries October 1998

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Monday 4:00 Session A

Teaching Circle Reports: September & October: M @ 4:00

At both of our meetings, we've had excellent, stimulating discussions that addressed the following questions / concerns.

We started by exploring how to engage students in learning in our courses.

That led to issues such as:

I. What are our expectations? What should students be able to do when they reach us? What if students don't match our expectations?

A. What are normal requirements for writing? Attendance? Participation? For amount of reading?

B. What kinds of "standards" should we expect students to meet? We discussed the vexed notion of "standards," the ways that the word / concept is so broad and so ill-defined.

II. What do students expect in our courses?

III. What are our goals in classes / courses?

A. Are we teaching techniques, content, skills, or??

IV. Should we "teach to the top" or aim for the middle or ???

A. How can we help all students (1) achieve their fullest potential; and / or (2) perform to meet the set standards of a class or course?

B. This becomes an issue of competence vs. performance? What are we evaluating, assessing, expecting? What are relationships?

V. What should happen in classes and courses?

A. We were talking specifically about the relationships between what students might know about and what they know how to do. Or, to say this another way, knowing concepts / theories, but not being able to apply. In some course sequences students acquire "content" and "concepts" in one course and then are expected to apply this in later courses. This positivistic model of learning hasn't been very successful for us, it seems.

VI. How are our classes and courses related to others in our departments? In other departments?

A. This discussion was informative because some colleges and departments take great care to align course sequences vertically. Others don't. This led us to the next issue.

VII. How do our courses match (or not) the mission statements of our department or the university?

VIII. We circled back to issues such as core curriculum and core courses-are they content courses or application courses or ???

IX. And we talked about grade inflation, which is related to the fuzzy concept of standards and seems to be divorced from more productive ways of talking about learning. What do grades represent in terms of what students know and know how to do? Is an A on an objective test any more valid than an A on a semester end portfolio of work? What exactly is grade inflation? If we don't have some ongoing way of discussing the validity and reliability of assessment and evaluation across the campus, how can we say that any grade is or is not inflated?

Monday 4:00 Session B (no summary)


Tuesday 8:30 Session

Topics: First Day of Class; Accreditation; Varia

Discussion was launched from reading "Your First Day of Class," in _Teaching at Its Best_, by Linda B. Nilson, Bolton, MA: 1998 and other articles. Use part of the class to give an overview and relate it to student experience and/or career goals. In lower level courses, students need to become acquainted with the instructor and classmates. In upper-level courses, students in the major will likely already know each other so the instructor must insert him/herself into the group.

Tina Oswald shared "Universities Scramble to Find Teachers of Freshman English," The Chronicle of Higher Education Colloquy online, 10/27/98, in which graduate students from disciplines other than English were employed to teach English.

This discussion led to the discovery there is no standard curriculum for teaching ENG 131 and 132 at SFA. Instructors have the freedom to organize the class in the manner that works well for them and their students. In computer science there is more guidance concerning topics for each course.

There was consensus that it would be worthwhile to establish general guidelines for lower level courses in each discipline, possibly a list of objectives to be met. Instructors would still be free to devise their structure and delivery.

In discussing the accreditation process, we found that organizations in different disciplines vary widely in the specificity of their curriculum requirements; for example, art, design and art history undergraduate learning objectives are very general compared with the specific requirements for computer science majors.

Instructors tend to see a college education as an intellectual journey; it is perceived that administrators tend to see the goals of education more business-like terms and that students at SFA tend to view college as career development and the way to acquire skills and knowlege for a well paying job.


Tuesday 12:00 Session

(Tuesday, November 10, 1999 -- due to schedule conflicts, the October meeting was moved a later date.)

The following questions were discussed during our Teaching Circle meeting :

1. What is technology?

Most of us agree that it is everything except a face to face stand-up lecture. Some of us think of it more in terms of computers or media with sight and sound. Information prepared or produced by software is also included in our definition of "Technology".

2. Who uses technology?

In education, faculty and students use technology. Faculty use it for in-class teaching, listservs, e-mail, and other ways to try to interact with the student.

Distance learning was discussed because this is an area where technology is usually used to try to teach something using a different medium. However, as educators, many of us enjoy the face to face relationship with the students. When educators use an electronic medium for a presentation, the discussion or debate that may occur loses something because the chemistry we sense in the others involved with the discussion is often missing. Working over the web loses a lot of chemistry and interaction with students and the need for a personal response is not met. We all feel that teachers are facilitators to help students learn and that technology can help us do that with many students. Learning for today's computer literate students is more visual than ever before. Sometimes with a distance learning video, teachers can be better prepared to do a lesson even though response time will be different. This concerned some of us that we will have to become actors to keep the attention of students during a video stand-up lecture. We do realized that traditional students respond more to videos, however, we did raise the question of, "Can these students learn with lecture or speech as opposed to visual stimuli?" As teachers, we need to teach students the strategies to learn from a multimedia approach.

3. How does it enhance learning?

Students are learning additional skills if the lesson is web based.

Students can go at their own speed because teaching over the internet is forgiving of speed. Students might be more attentive so they will talk about the topic. Faculty could learn new technology by starting off in small steps such as introduce a new lecture in a new format and build upon it.

Our group also discussed the benefits of a Teaching Excellence Center which would help faculty with technology type problems.

Wednesday 1:00 Session

Topic: Does the Use of Technology in the Classroom Enhance Student Learning?

A number of the members of the Circle routinely used technology in their classrooms. This included the use of graphing calculators, Powerpoint presentations, Web-based exams, emailed questions, Web searches & presentations, distance-learning courses, etc. One member felt that the use of technology was necessay in order to compete with television for the students' attention. Others disagreed, saying that the real key was student motivation to learn the material being presented and the self-discipline on the student's part to pay attention in class. Another member has been using computerized presentations for the past 5 years, but felt the students were not "techno-savy" enough to utilize these presentations to the fullest.

Most members of the Circle agreed that the use of technology made the instructor more involved and helped the instructor organize their thoughts/materials more effectively. It also helped the students organize their notes better for the class. Everone agreed that the use of technology in the classroom requires the training of the faculty in the use of this technology.

In summary, the Circle members felt that the appropriate use of technology could increase student learning, but that it had to be utilized in such a way to actively involve the student in the learning process so that they would be motivated to take the responsibility for their own learning.

Wednesday 3:00 Session (no summary)

Thursday 3:15 Session

The discussion at the Thursday Circle focused on using technology in the classroom. Our dialog resulted in identifying practical applications, problems encountered and specific technical points to consider. Convenience or lack of convenience was a major player in the use of the available technology for several of the participants. Some of the suggestions made were: let the teacher have the slowest computer; be the first in line to 'check-out' high-use pieces of equipment; plan for alternate approaches in case of mechanical glitzes. Expense as a factor in available quality equipment was addressed. In summary, the most effective motivator for students was to "avoid monotony" in the class.

The next circle will focus on cheating, inter-active learning, and technology's role in optimizing student learning.


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