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CSU Teaching Symposium

February 24, 2013

Yesterday I attended the annual CSU Teaching Symposium on the campus of the California Maritime Academy in Valejo. It was fun to meet faculty from all over California, and I left with some useful ideas for improving my teaching. I was also reminded how difficult it is to make the most of those few hours in the classroom every week. Here are some of the more promising suggestions:

  • Use Skype to arrange virtual classroom visits by interesting people of all kinds, especially authors the students have been studying, who may be too far away or too expensive for a live visit.
  • Use VoiceThread.com to allow students to post online spoken comments on course readings or other materials.
  • Get students moving with various “up and out” (of their seats) exercises. Research suggests that many people learn better when they combine cognitive and physical activities. For example, place various pictures on the classroom walls, and then ask students to go stand next to the picture that best represents their view of the author they’ve been studying, and then talk with whomever else shows up. Or give students playing cards and ask them to wander around the room until they find people with a card of the same number, and then work with those people to discuss a question posted on the screen. (Not sure how well these exercises will work in my overcrowded classrooms, but I’ll try it.)
  • Give students more choice about what kinds of assignments to complete, thus allowing for different learning styles and encouraging students to take more responsibility for the course.

I also heard a lively lunchtime lecture by Dr. Elizabeth Barkley, author of Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (Jossey-Bass, 2010). Among other things, she discussed the relationship between students’ perceived value of the tasks we ask them to complete, on one hand, and their personal expectations of success, on the other. Students might think the assigned task is valuable, but assume they can’t succeed. Or they might think they can easily succeed at the task, but consider it boring. Given that students are very different, finding assignments that all students consider both worthwhile and appropriately challenging isn’t easy.

Onward.

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