After a semester as a student again, I’m more aware of some of the problems in my own classes, some of which is my own making. In my next few posts I’m going to focus on issues that were particularly frustrating and consider how I would have approached them, and also how this applies to my own teaching. The first post is below.
One of the most frustrating things I encountered this semester was limitations. In one of my classes, I was limited in which journals I could use for my research assignments, and as a result, doing research became very difficult. While 30-50 journals to choose from may seem adequate on the surface, other limitations in the titles of the articles, content, or focus of the journals themselves made the projects near impossible to do in a timely manner. If I had access to journals in their paper forms, skimming for main ideas, themes, etc, would be a lot easier- pick up the journal and look at the cover. When working with journals that are a mix of on and offline, and some that haven’t updated since 2007, it’s hard to “browse” for themes as one could at a library. To visually “browse” each journal via Google Scholar is likewise a daunting task.
While the intent of the exercise, as far as I could surmise, was to familiarize us grad students with the current issues in what the professor determined were the major publications in the field (which I should hope she is a capable of determining). Okay, this seems like a reasonable goal. I’m not sure, however, that throwing a list of about 4 dozen titles at the students and telling them to determine the themes AND write a paper about it in under 25 hours is a reasonable request. And I have access to some of the fastest internet anywhere, when I’m home. *sigh*
Given the educational goal, how would I have run this exercise? I may have required 50-60% of the research to be pulled from the reading list instead of 100%. It seems to me that there is much crossover in discipline and much can be gained from drawing on sources parallel to education and technology. In any normal literature review, a scholar would pull from all appropriate, peer-reviewed sources, books, etc, in an effort to give strength to her position.
Another aspect may have been giving a list of recent trends and having students make the connections between the trend and how technology is being applied, or seeking consistency in the technology used to create or support this trend. Another possibility would be a list of old trends and have students examine what has supplanted it and how.
Finally, I would have provided students with explicit access to examples of good, better and great work with explanations as to how each example met the criteria I was expecting, especially if I were going to be a stickler for format on equal grounds to content.
Applying it to My Classes
Students new to a content area can find a lack of limits paralyzing. This is particularly true if they don’t have a clear vision of the goal and requirements of the project. Limiting my students to a single method and content stymies creativity and only assists my grading ease. Giving student freedom in either what they present or how they present it (keeping the course goal constant) allows freedom for variation in interest or ability. When both the content and the method present challenges, but only one is relevant to the course, either teacher, student, or both end up missing the educational goal of the activity.
An example of this is most certainly the mandatory online homework that I had to assign to my students last semester. The vast majority didn’t even register, let alone do the assignments. As a result, most students, and certainly the students most in need of it, missed out on the practice that could have helped them on their assessments.
The other issue is assessment. My program doesn’t have measurable outcomes, and as such it is impossible to identify whether or not students succeeded. Having measurable goals and keeping these in mind make assessment easy. Without them, assessment is subjective at best and more likely impossible.
How have limitations served or hampered your students’ learning? How can you change how you limit your students or what you limit in your classes to help your students reach their educational goals?
Is there anything I missed? Do I have any wrong assumptions or reactions? What do you think I could be doing better?