Thursday, September 11, 2014

Deeper learning

Put a bunch of faculty from various areas around a table and it won’t be long until the question is asked, “How are your classes going?”

Last Tuesday’s faculty/staff lunch, I joined members of the business, communication and sociology faculty at a table. The consensus was that classes are going very well. The professors expressed excitement that their students are engaged and eager to learn, making it a joy for them to be in front of the class.

“What initiated this change? What is different about this fall?” Nobody at the table had an answer.

In talking with a colleague later, it occurred to us that this year’s incoming students read Ken Bain’s book “What the Best College Students Do” as their summer reading assignment. Bain, as the guest speaker for the Opening Convocation Forum in the first week of school, then stressed the need for a commitment to “deep learning” which leads to a higher purpose.

Are new students more engaged this year because they had more of an idea what to expect from the college experience?

I did not ask my dining companions if there was some different education technique being employed in their classrooms. Last academic year, the faculty took a year off of the typical faculty governance work for a “retooling” effort, which included the study of Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Teaching faculty were encouraged to take a critical look at their courses and perhaps add new teaching methodology to their classroom presentations.

One prof shared last year that he had successfully implemented a “Jeopardy” contest in his classroom. The first portion of class the students played Jeopardy with questions stemming from the previous day’s homework reading. The students reportedly loved the competition, and learning increased.

A cheap ploy to get students to do their homework? Obviously. But it worked.

Could it be that the combination of these two studies, with students considering “What the Best College Students Do” while the faculty consider “What the Best College Teachers Do” have created a synergy on campus where deep learning does indeed happen?

Or as President Harder said during the President’s Forum, “Education is not something that is done to you, or for you, but with you.”

Let it be so.

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