[The following is from my monthly reflections journal for the UBC Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Leadership program I’m attending this year (a year-long workshop focused in part on general improvements in pedagogy, but also in large part on learning about SoTL and developing a SoTL project). Warning–a long post!]
I recently read an article by Ursula Wingate of the Department of Education and Professional Studies at King’s College London, entitled The impact of formative feedback on the development of academic writing,” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 35, No. 5 (August 2010): 519-533. I am very interested in this article b/c it deals with a question I myself have wondered, in relation to my teaching in Arts One: why do some students improve so much in their writing over the course of the year, and why do some fail to do so? I was thinking this might be a future SoTL project for me, and I’m glad to see that there is literature on this…so I’ve got some work in the future, looking through that literature!
In this article Wingate reports on a study focused on two research questions:
(1) Can improvements in student writing be linked to the use of the formative feedback?
(2) What are the reasons for engaging or not engaging with the assessment feedback? (p. 523)
The sample was a set of essays by 62 students in a first year course focused in part on writing (the course was part of a program in applied linguistics). Comments on essays were coded according to which category they belong to in terms of assessment criteria, and the researchers compared the comments in each category from an early essay to those on a later essay from each student. They separated students into three main categories: those whose essays showed equally high achievement over the two assignments, those whose marks improved by at least 10% between the two essays, and those whose marks didn’t show much of a difference between the two essay (+ or – 5%). After this separation they ended up with 39 essays. They list a few reasons why they didn’t include other students in the study, but those aren’t crucial to what I want to comment on here (I think). Mostly they were looking to find why some students improve a lot and some don’t, so the second two groups make sense, but the first group (those who were consistently high achievers) were included to see if they could find out in interviews some useful information about how/why they are academically engaged.
I have long had a bit of a pet peeve that I think I’m finally coming to terms with: students getting up and leaving in the middle of the class meeting, whether to just leave for good for the day, or to leave for a little while and then come back (presumably to go to the washroom or make a call or something).
This happens quite often, every year, every class, and it’s happening more and more. For a long time I wondered if it was happening more in my classes than in those of my colleagues, which might explain why no one else complained about it. My partner teaches statistics in the Psychology department, and it rarely happens to him; but that’s easily explained by the fact that his students are often terrified of the class and don’t want to miss anything he says in case it could help them on the assignments and exams.
Upon reflecting on my own lecture style, I found that it is very common for me to spend lectures outlining arguments from the assigned texts–I present main points in the text as I see them, and the supporting arguments. I am acting as interpreter of the texts, which is not surprising given the difficult nature of many philosophical texts and the fact that I am often teaching first- or second-year students (many of which have had little to no experience reading such texts). But of course, in doing this I am discouraging students from outlining the arguments themselves, trying to come to grips with them in the readings before coming to lecture. Why do careful reading of the text before class if the professor is just going to tell you what the text says (in his/her own interpretation)? Some students will do so anyway and then be able to ask good questions and offer alternative readings, but many will not. Continue reading
[Note after writing this: I see that I was asking this question a number of months ago in my blog…guess it’s an unresolved issue and has been for awhile…]
Seminar discussions in my Arts One class this past year were not as lively as they have been in past years. This class meets in a group of about 20 twice a week for 75 minutes, after a 2 hour weekly lecture. This is quite a bit of time for first year students to be responsible for discussion each week. My strategies in the past have been to spend part of the time outlining main points in the readings, then pose some questions that should generate discussion; start with some writing assignment that will generate thought and discussion; ask for student questions for discussion; start with student presentations where they prepare questions before the class. These have all worked okay except “ask for student questions for discussion.”
One of the courses I teach on a regular basis has a significant discussion component–after a two hour lecture each week, I and a group of about 20 students meet twice a week for 1.5 hours each to discuss the texts and lecture. I have found that I tend to develop a pattern of encouraging discussion on the questions I’m interested in, and somehow am not doing enough to generate discussion on students’ own questions and ideas. I am not doing this on purpose, but this pattern has inevitably developed each time I’ve taught this course (this is my third year doing so).
Barbara Ganley posts a few ideas in response to a question she says she gets regularly: if your students are spending time discussing outside of class (through blogs, discussion boards, or otherwise), then what goes on during class time when discussion would otherwise take place? I am interested in the question of “what is class time for,” not because I have or am planning to take discussion out of the class meeting and put it into blogs or discussion boards instead, but simply as a general question: what is the best use of class time for the sake of promoting learning (especially in philosophy courses)?
Setting up and maintaining a blog requires a considerable commitment of time and energy. What reasons are there in support of investing one’s resources to such an enterprise (given all the other things in professional and personal life that need attention as well)? I spent several years occasionally visiting other people’s blogs, and then the past few months doing so much more regularly (through an RSS reader). Why not just continue to be a passive ingester of the thoughts and ideas of others? Why embark on the path of adding one’s own into the mix (beyond commenting on others’ blogs, without having one of one’s own)?
This question is about why teachers/scholars might want to spend the time to blog, rather than one focused on why blogs might be useful as part of coursework for students. Here I post some of my initial thoughts on the question, to be supplemented later as I get more blogging experience.