Encouraging student feedback

Durdle_Door_OverviewAs my American colleagues know, the UK is a socialist paradise and it’s one of the reasons they’re all coming over later this month (the other is our workshop, which you can book a space at here).

One of the many great consequences of our enlightened political choices is the notion of ‘bank holidays’, days especially chosen to have poor weather, so that us Brits can really indulge in moaning about rain. We love it.

This weekend past was, unfortunately, a very poor example, as the sun shone for a full three days, but I braved it all, to go on a short family break on the South Coast. This included a Sunday lunch in a small pub, where (it turned out) a recent graduate of my fine university was one of the people serving us. Continue reading

Learning from Teaching

CgV3SvnW8AQNSAZIt’s going to sound very pretentious, but all this travel is very disorientating. Exactly one week ago, I was sat in a seminar room in Hong Kong, helping people design simulation games, something that now feels simultaneously very familiar and very distant.

Amanda and I have posted already about these workshops (here), but given some of the things I’ve been doing since then, I wanted to pick up on a broader theme, namely of how we ourselves learn from the teaching we do.

Last night, I was in London, taking part in a panel discussion about Britain and the EU, as part of my other work, with an audience of school children. And that sentence already contains my first error.

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Mid-Semester Ruminations

Thinking things over.
Thinking things over.

A few thoughts on my teaching, having just passed the mid-point of the spring semester:

Students have almost to a person stopped taking notes. I don’t know if this phenomenon is caused by a lack of will, ability, or a combination of both, but I suspect it has its roots in the K-12 system. Or my employer is simply drawing students who are not as academically well-prepared for college. Ten years ago perhaps a quarter of my students wrote notes in class. Now I’m lucky if it’s one out of fifteen. I refuse to periodically collect and somehow grade students’ notebooks. An alternative might be open-notebook, end-of-class quizzes. It’s additional work on my end — more stuff to grade and I would need to think of question or two while teaching — but it might be a way of generating the desired behavior. Continue reading

Are students conservative, or just scared?

Other people's classes always seem to be more fun
Other people’s classes always seem to be more fun

Yesterday, I was invited to talk to a colleague’s class in another university. As always, it was good to get out and about and see other places (even if that place was a tad unprepossessing), but it was the discussion over a sandwich afterwards that was most enlightening.

Discussion was ranging over a number of topics, when one of the party said that they were always surprised by how conservative students have become, in the sense of disliking anything other than conventional, lecture-and-seminar formats. This has come after someone else had related how they felt obliged to provide the more passive lecture content in addition to the active learning, so that their (final-year) students wouldn’t feel too deprived of knowledge.

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Are university students special?

This will mean nothing to many of you, which will be your loss.
This will mean nothing to many of you, which will be your loss.

Let’s try to get past your reflex answer/snort/mutter and consider this question with a bit more thought.

It’s something that occurs as I head to Portland for TLC 2016, leaving behind (for a bit) my new Fellowship, much of which is concerned with disseminating academic research to a wide variety of audiences.

In particular, I wonder whether the teaching we provide in our university classrooms is that different from the teaching we might give elsewhere, or even from the dissemination work that goes beyond this. Continue reading

Inclusive Teaching Strategies

Diverse BirdsI recently attended a workshop on diversity and inclusiveness in the classroom that included the following advice:

  • Attend to room logistics. We exist in physical space, and the organization of that space can produce a welcoming or unwelcoming environment. The arrangement of tables and chairs might facilitate student self-segregation according to gender, ethnicity, or physical ability.
  • Be explicit about equal participation in discussion and group activities. Often this means deliberately calling on the students who otherwise don’t talk.
  • Be aware of student non-verbals. Does student A produce negative facial expressions whenever student B speaks? Does student C appear mentally disengaged?
  • Use multiple outlets for students to voice their thoughts. Students who might be reluctant to express themselves verbally in class might be quite willing to do so in writing online.
  • Maximize diversity when forming groups. Create teams composed of students who have different genders, ethnicities, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Otherwise they will tend to group with people most like themselves.
  • Create and reinforce rules for discussions. This can include the use of a talking stick, tokens, or other devices to ensure that everyone in class has the opportunity to speak and be heard.
  • Model validating behavior in response to student words and actions — nod when someone else is speaking, use phrases like “thank you for that,” and be encouraging rather than sternly critical.

How innovative are we?

Me, back in my punk phase.
Me, back in my punk phase.

Around these parts, we tend to make a lot of innovation. We write posts about cool new things we do, partly because we like telling people about such stuff, partly because we think you’d like to such stuff too.

Of course, we’re also very sensitive and certainly don’t fetishise innovation: it’s got limits and there’s a time and a place for it all. We’re not going to make you do something you don’t want to, or need to.

But there’s another question that sits to one side in all of this: just how innovative are we in any case?

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