Thursday, June 24, 2010

Teaching Another Generation of Students

I speculate here that students nowadays learn very differently from when I was a student ten years ago.

When I was an undergraduate, my expectation from an course was to sit in a classroom, to take notes from the blackboard, and maybe do a project or a demo (rarely) in class. The internet was established but still new, and the idea of getting homework solutions from a class website was not an entitlement - but a privilege. Growing up, my generation learned uni-directionally - from TV, books, newspaper, and teachers that lectured to us. There was not an opportunity to "comment" or "post" or to interact with our learning tools. Talking back to a teacher was unusual.

My first two years of teaching has been based on my experiences from ten years ago. I prepare notes, I present the notes, the students write them down. The notes are based on our textbook, and I do not stray from the textbook. Rarely, we have a demo from YouTube or a printout from a website. My current teaching model is uni-directional. Students do not speak up in class very much nor do the inquire. This is very much like how I learned, and ten years ago - this may have been satisfactory. But now it is not, and I must change how I teach.

Society now receives and processes information in an interactive pathway. We can now "comment" on news stories online, we can "Twitter" to CNN on how we feel about the story, and we are entitled to see our personal responses posted on a website. The generation of students I am now teaching appear to desire more interaction in the classroom, and this is where I have failed. Our brains are now wired to seek information, and to post our opinions.

I plan to change my teaching style for the next course. I want to improve and change the same way in which technology does. I don't want to be that old professor using 20-year old transparencies! There are a number of ways to add activities and interactions to a course that look promising. What I ask is what you like to do in your courses? What worked? What didn't work?


MommyProf said...

I did an out-of-class discussion board in one class last semester. I had to be very prescriptive about what was expected (helps to grade the first one or two with lots of comments and giving low grades if merited), but for the students who participated as directed, I think it was helpful.

I used the discussion board feature on Blackboard.

I had a graduate section of a similar course, and we used GoogleWave. It worked just ok. The grad students were trained to be active learners, and that is why, but I think it would be a disaster for today's undergrad "Just tell me the minimum I have to do to get an A" mentality.

Anonymous said...

i wish i knew. I think it depends a lot on the size of the class. I have 90 students in an upper-level class and it just doesn't seem possible to do much that is interactive. I'll keep looking for other good suggestions.

Anonymous said...

I don't think students learn any differently than they used to, but the tools to help students learn interactively are more a part of daily life. Interactive learning has long been part of excellent K-12 classrooms and remains so, whether or not teachers use new technology. Even though you refer to being lectured in the past (by teachers or newspapers or TV), the best learning is when we actually think about the ideas that are presented (i.e. we learn a lot more if we do not accept Sarah Palin's statements as facts).

Technology has made it easier to incorporate interaction. However, for small courses small group problem-solving is still the best way to stimulate critical thinking - it can be enhanced if students have their laptops and can instantly seek information to support or refute their ideas. This is also possible in large classes if you have at least 1 TA to help you make the rounds of groups to ask questions of them and keep them on the right path. Controversial videos can be used to stimulate classroom discussion as well. The most successful discussion comes when students have all the information to answer a complex question, and put it together as a group.

I never had much luck with out-of-classroom ideas like web boards - those work great when people have burning questions, but not so much when it's just required. Check out some of the journals like CBE-LSE for tested ideas. Anecdotal evidence is not enough - we know this as scientists. And it is important that we do not confuse impressions of learning or enjoyment with actual gains in knowledge and critical thinking.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I like using brief youtube clips every now and then. I also try to do a group work problem in every class. It's amazing how many students go to class three times a week and still don't know anyone's name...even at a small college like mine!

Have you sat in on discussion-based classes on the other side of campus lately? I've gotten some good ideas on how to get my students to talk more by watching non-science colleagues in the classroom.