Learning is a social process mediated by collaboration with others. Given the sociability of learning, how can we maximize student interaction and set up a social context in our classrooms for meaningful and productive learning? While there are lots of ways to encourage and support interaction among students, class discussions are perhaps the most intuitive way for many faculty and students. In this blog post I offer some tips and tricks for creating good discussions in any classroom.
In a fascinating article from 2011, a team of psychologists and cognitive scientists from UC Berkeley, the University of Louisville, MIT, Stanford, and Harvard report on an experiment they conducted with 85 children between the ages of 4 and 6. The children were divided into four groups, with each group experiencing a different experimental condition. Each condition involved the use of a specially designed toy. I was drawn to this study because I think it has implications for higher education. Although our brains change and mature dramatically as we age, the mechanisms by which we learn do not necessarily shift as much as we might think.
A few weeks ago, we published a piece in which I argued that nearly everything written about student evaluations on the internet is a form of academic click bait, and that there is often little-to-no relationship between the viral success of these pieces and the quality of their arguments. I was, of course, aware of the irony of making such claims on the internet, particularly via a blog post that intentionally avoided the literature I called on all of us to read. And as this piece got a great deal of attention in the days after it was posted, I couldn’t help but smile as my intuition on these matters was confirmed.
Alice Goffman's book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City received more attention than most top sociologists at the pinnacle of their careers could hope for. However, the positive reviews that On the Run enjoyed early on were quickly joined by criticism and controversy. Ultimately, the On the Run controversy raises important pedagogical questions for us.
If you've been anywhere near higher education over the last few years, I would bet that you've heard of Carol Dweck's work on mindsets. James Lang recently wrote a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education outlining Dweck's theories and discussing why they are important for faculty to know about and to use in the classroom, but there might be more to the story of student learning.
It's been a bad year for student evaluations. In the space of two weeks in October, both NPR and the Harvard Business Review published pieces summarizing studies that were critical of their use. With provocative titles like "Student Course Evaluations Get an F" and "Better Teachers Receive Worse Student Evaluations," these pieces were (and continue to be) widely shared and much discussed among academics.
As Co-Chair of the Committee on Teaching's Subcommittee on Teaching and Course Evaluations, I performed a review of the research literature on student ratings of instruction. In this post, you will find a screencast of my presentation of this material to the full Committee on Teaching, along with a bibliography of the most important works on the subject.