When I talk with colleagues who teach, but who aren’t really into teaching (if you know what I mean), there’s often a sense that the L&T crowd are out to make life difficult for them. Regardless of whether that’s true or not (as discussed last week), the image is one of ‘us’ wanting to make ‘them’ do ever more complicated things, for no good reason.
This is actually a big issue, but for now we’ll focus on some parts of it and see how we go. Within that, one issue is what I will be calling the promotion/representativeness problem*. This is just the tension between us trying to share our work and often picking out the most glamorous or extensive example, rather than the simple thing that might be of more general interest.
To give you an example, for all my work on simulations, I’ve have just as much positive feedback (and adoption, a more useful measure) of my ABC post-it note technique.
The problem is that the things we talk about – the things that we have often put a lot of time and effort into, to be sure – are not the things that colleagues might find most useful. To use a more pertinent example, I’m giving a workshop on active learning later this week and I’d like to recommend a great demonstration of this, but it’s being run by the university down the road and it certainly wouldn’t work in two places so close.
All of this is a more general issue in talking about active learning. It doesn’t have to be huge simulations, or totally re-creating a curriculum; it can be a pile of small activities, bundled in with what already happens.
Of course, the solution to this is to go all jujitsu and use weaknesses as strengths.
If we’re in the game of trying to colleagues that L&T is as important as research – which I’ll suggest is our usual tussle – then why not make the L&T look more like research?
Students-as-Researchers is not only a great handle, it can also be great work. And it doesn’t have to be about working to formal outputs, although you can do that: it can be about getting students to engage with the research process in more explicit ways. And that can start from the first semester: last year, I got my Liberal Arts & Sciences students to present a research proposal for their first piece of assessment and used that as a way to help them get into the mindset of research. The projects might not have got funding in the real world, but as a first step, it was very helpful indeed.
Maybe the way to approach all of this is to treat it as we would a class: first question is – as always – what do we want to achieve?
If we talk to colleagues and get a proper sense of what they look for students to learn, then we can offer something from our range of pedagogies and techniques that might suit them, rather than throwing out idea after idea at them in the vague hope that they spot something they like.
That’s not about jargon, and it’s not about the fanciest thing you’ve ever done, and it’s a slog, but in terms of securing lasting improvement in our collective practice, it’s probably the best way forward.
- I’m thinking that if I dress it up a bit, then it’ll sound like something that the research-focused might consider**
** – obviously, such dressing-up is also a problem, for general accessibility