We’ve finished day three of our Summer Institute for Teaching and Learning. Tomorrow is wrap-up day.
The plenary sessions with Donna Llewellyn have been good. The information she has presented is not earth-shattering, but the discussions that she has encouraged, both in small groups and as one large group, have been edifying.
One of her themes this week has been transparency, that is, letting the students know what you’re up to. I think that is a particularly good idea. Let students in on the goals of your course, and tell them how each learning experience or assessment is tied to a particular course goal.
The course design focus group I’ve been facilitating has been an active and talkative group (two historians, a psychologist, an operations management professor, and a physicist). I threw my plans for the three and a half days out the window on Tuesday. Instead, we’ve had some really good discussions on understanding where our students are coming from, spelling out what we want students to take from our courses, and trying to come up with ideas for how to break out of our MWF mentality.
Today, we spent an hour talking about how we could achieve “Learning How to Learn” goals. As Fink says, “This occurs when students learn something about the process of learning itself. They may be learning how to be a better student, how to engage in a particular kind of inquiry (e.g., the scientific method), or how to become self-directing learners.” (p. 6). We agreed that learning how to learn goals are tied strongly to teaching students the language of the discipline, that is, learning how to read and write in the language of the discipline. Since students struggle with language in general, none of this is easy (I’ve written here about this struggle with language before).
The discussion was lively, and some interesting ideas popped up. One that occurred to me was to have students read something that is particularly well-written but not in the language of the discipline — a few pages of Tolkien came to mind. His writing is rich and beautiful, and CS students are often drawn to science fiction and fantasy, so they might actually enjoy the exercise. After this, the students would read a short piece that is accessible but is written in the language of the discipline. This would be followed by an analysis or a guided discussion that compares the readings and can help them better appreciate how to read for academic purposes. Some gentle approaches to writing were proposed as well.
Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the experience, and I’ve enjoyed my small group of fellow scholars.