Teaching and Learning 101

RainManDriver.jpg

Indulge me for a moment. Think about things that humans see a lot, perhaps from early childhood through adulthood, which they go on to believe they can do, but which they cannot.

A few things come to mind for me. How about storytelling? I don’t know many people who believe themselves to be bad at telling stories (even in the context of friendships vs formal stories). Yet most people have no idea what the difference is between a story and a report, which means the lions share of people are simply relaying information to their friends, while not understanding just how bored those friends are.

I think about nutrition. Most people eat like their parents ate, until they find themselves with a problem of health, weight, or potentially worse. Then, the most cursory of research is performed to find a new way of eating, most of which do not work or revert quickly, leaving people to their own devices time and again.

What about critical thinking? Just about everyone feels they are a quality thinker, able to discern better than most. Yet we know from study after study that every generation gets worse and worse at critically thinking about most everything. Since nobody teaches us what critical thinking looks like or how it manifests itself practically, we just assume that we have absorbed it over time, when in fact it does not work that way.

I had a rare and interesting opportunity last month that I want to share with you. I sat among 14-15 graduate students, all of whom were currently teaching their very first section of a college level class. We were at a conference and they were reflecting about their teaching experiences, being on the chalkboard side of a lectern instead of in the desk.

First, some basic Q&A:

  • When asked how many had received instruction regarding how to teach, only 1 hand went up. The single hand was a woman who had taken a lunch n learn on classroom management.

  • When asked how many visits each had received from a mentor faculty, the highest number was once during the term.

  • When asked what pedagogical models or theories they used in their teaching, nobody answered until pressed. Then, a biologist said he used Bloom’s taxonomy as a basis for grading while he lectured and allowed questions only during lab work. Nobody else added anything.

  • When asked if they considered themselves “good” professors, they all nodded slowly, saying they would be by their first year past grad school.

After the session, I approached the students and asked them a few more questions. Were they nervous before teaching their classes? All of them said they had been extremely nervous at first. (One to the point of throwing up.) I asked if their students were learning? They weren’t sure, but hoped so. When I explained the scads of evidence we have that students do not actually learn in class, they were shocked. I threw out a few theorists and theories (like Dweck, Mezirow, and Kolb or Constructivism, Connectivism, or Mindset). Nobody knew the names, nor the words. I then asked about development opportunities through their home colleges and universities, to which all of them said there were none. There was no pathway that any of them knew of, to learn how to best teach, lecture, or ensure learning.

I’d like to say this encounter surprised me, but it did not. The context for teaching and learning has not changed at most schools since I got my master’s or doctorate. Yes, it’s a shame, but people put their energy and effort into the things they value. Higher ed hasn’t been forced to come to terms with a lack of value for learning to date.

Let’s change this stupid quote, shall we?

Let’s change this stupid quote, shall we?

But it did give me an idea. These young instructors were hungry for skill building, theory application (heck, just theory itself), and more. Yet they don’t have anywhere to turn for “how to teach” lessons.

Well, now they will. Starting in the Fall, we are going to launch our regional workshops and academies. In fact, IICE is going to send out a (short) survey to academics asking about how, when, and where they would be interested in Professional Development concerning becoming a better instructor. Subscribe to this blog if you want to answer that survey for yourself! From applicable brain research to learning science to applied practice, we’ll give the best of the best pieces of advice when it comes to how our students learn.

Our main target? Newbies. We want to give every GA, TA, and first year instructor / professor a leg-up on the teaching continuum. We know you don’t have much (if any) instruction with crafting lessons that encourage learning. But we do. And we’ll create a super-digestible, easily translatable platform for transforming your classroom into a learning experience extraordinaire. Of course, the instructors who are always seeking to improve are most welcome too. (Although that 10% always seem to find these exact opportunities on their own, no?) :)

Be on the lookout for more information starting this August. It might change your life. (And the lives of your students…)

Good luck and good learning.