CF examines teaching tactics

by Bill Lascher

Ways in which teachers can make more of an impact upon their students were discussed Tuesday afternoon in the monthly College Faculty meeting.

A presentation entitled "Getting the most from our students." was intended to prompt discussion among the members of the College Faculty. It was hoped that faculty members would bounce ideas off each other across traditional departmental and divisional lines regarding the issue.

According to Dean of the College Clayton Koppes, the original inspiration for this presentation came from Joe Palmieri, professor and chair of the physics department, and also one of the four panelists. The other members were Director of the Expository Writing program and Associate Professor Jan Cooper, Associate Professor of Politics Eve Sandberg, and Dennison Smith, professor of neuroscience and psychology.

Each member of the panel presented unique perspectives on how in fact to "get more" from students, while also re-emphasizing each other's points. Smith, who gave the first presentation, said, "I want to make a pitch for lectures. I think lecturing is very important in the sciences." He explained that the complexity of the courses he is teaching has increased tremendously from just 10 years ago, and lecturing is a way to get students excited about the material as well as to acquaint them with the concepts they will need to know. "I always present visual materials while I'm talking," he said.

Additionally, he said he always gives students extensive handouts because the material covered (especially in intro. courses) is so dense that they are necessary to give them the basic facts, a technique he says has shown to be effective. He also said he often puts up outlines on the screen or board, but stressed that these are not the only successful tactics he employs in his lectures. "Lecturing is not just a matter of giving the facts and organizing, but also making them exciting."

He also recommended lots of testing, and urged other teachers to hold review sessions for students to get further preparation for this testing. Each presenter echoed this call for further accessibility of faculty.

Cooper began her presentation by expressing her initial uneasiness with the title of the discussion. "I don't like to feel like I'm getting something out of my students," she said, but then admitted that she recognized that faculty members get some gratification from students. She said, "We get some of our best work when we consciously acknowledge our relationship with students."

According to her, there were five particularly effective ways to connect with students. The first was by communicating the "why's," or reasoning behind what teachers ask their students to do. Secondly, faculty can spend time helping students contextualize what they are learning. Thirdly, she urged faculty to engage students in their personal intellectual pursuits. She said, "We can sharpen the way we point out to students that our own research relates to theirs." Her fourth tactic was for teachers to give students very clear feedback on their projects. Finally, she said, "We can most clearly show support by tactfully, but honestly, telling them when they need to seek extra help. This can turn out to be one of the most affirming expressions of respect."

Sandberg began her presentation by admitting that she has gotten into the habit of assigning projects without taking the time to explain how to complete them. She described her realization that she sometimes assigns research papers, for example, to students who do not know how to begin the necessary research. To remedy this, she has developed classroom activities or assignments that are preliminary to a research paper. "This gets them in the habit of looking at the materials that I'm hoping they'll use in their own paper," she said. She also stressed the fact that office hours aren't always enough for students because of their busy schedules, and therefore teachers should find other ways to make themselves accessible to students.

Palmieri stressed the administrative aspect of "getting the most from students." He said, "We need to let students know the quality of writing, research and mathematical reasoning we want. We need graded assignments early in the semester so students get an idea of the quality of their work." He also stressed the need for early feedback to advisors, who he said need the information to work with their students.

The following discussion mainly revolved around the topic of lecturing. Many of the concerns revolved around how professors of humanities courses, which don't traditionally have a heavy emphasis on that technique, can successfully integrate the technique.

Concluding the panel discussion, Palmieri said, "It is interesting to hear that the issues we talk about in physics are there in other areas as well. We need to keep talking about this."

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Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 8, November 5, 1999

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