I have the privilege of working with the Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation (IMPACT) project, and as part of that responsibility I have been observing classes that have been redesigned as part of the assessment process.
Recently I observed a course and came to the realization that while it is imperative that we work with faculty to create a more engaging and interactive classroom setting, as well as ensure that clear learning goals are set and articulated to students, there’s another piece to the puzzle: the students. I was observing a larger class, and noticed the following student behaviors:
- Many students had nothing on their desks – no computer, no paper, no pen/pencil.
- Some students who were taking notes were writing what was on the PowerPoint slides – slides that were available for students to download (I only know this because some students had laptops with the slides right there).
- When asked to talk to their neighbor about a concept or question, most did not talk to anyone.
- At least 15 students arrived after the lecture had already started, and at least as many left before class was dismissed.
The behavior that got me the most, however, was when the professor walked the students through one of the homework problems and gave them the answers to two others (so that they could ensure they were doing the work correctly at home) and a large number of students didn’t even write that information down.
We can redesign courses and work with faculty to alter pedagogy, but if we fail to teach students how to best succeed in our courses, our redesign efforts may be for naught.
Literature indicates that many students coming to college acquired few, if any, study skills that were readily transferable to a university environment. Many times, students indicate that they did not have to study much in high school to earn a good grade. Further, they find college courses to be far more demanding and requiring a far greater amount of time outside of class than they’d experienced.
There exists a shared responsibility between the university and the student when it comes to success – a student must be willing to work for a satisfactory grade, but the university must also be willing to support that student in that endeavor. Students need to be taught the techniques that will help them succeed – from note taking to test taking to using the libraries on campus. One cannot assume that first, or even second, year students have skills adequate enough to succeed without being shown how to do so.
If you’re redesigning a course, or even just making small changes, think of how that will impact the students in it – in particular, how they prepare for, participate in, and engage with your class. What tips or suggestions can you show students to help them best prepare for and participate in your class? If you can illustrate what you expect them to do, and what will help them succeed, your course will be that much more successful.
This is part one of a two-part post. Part two will provide information on campus resources, handouts, and information that can be used to help students learn as much as they can.