By Kim Bates, Ph.D
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
I was honored to accept a two-year appointment as the Learning Strategies Coordinator for the Terry Campus in January 2014. After teaching in the Human Services Department since 2001, I was thrilled to have this chance to work alongside other faculty as we collaborate to enhance our teaching. In my new role, my primary mission is to investigate best practices in teaching and learning, share the findings with faculty, and assist in their growth as educators.
The process of investigation has been exciting, enlightening, and overwhelming. I’ve read articles, books, and blogs; watched countless videos; attended conferences and webinars; completed a Flipped Classroom Certification; explored countless web tools; discovered some really cool educational technology; and spent a lot of time reflecting on my teaching. I’ve learned a lot, and my teaching is very different as a result. As we wrap up another successful year, this seemed like a good time to share these reflections with you.
I’ve adopted three guiding beliefs about teaching and learning, and in this first post in the series, I’ll share the most recent. First, a little background: I’ve always struggled with how to “cover” all the material in my courses. There is so much information! Students are overwhelmed, and I’ve heard many of you say the same thing about your courses, so I know I’m not alone in this struggle. I think I’ve done a decent job at this, but I always wondered how much did students really learn? Could they apply the skills and information in a second-year course? The answer was not consistent, so I had to rethink my strategy.
At the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, one of the presenters asked “What do you want students to remember one year after the course ends?” What a great question, I thought. I started thinking about all the material in the course. Then I started thinking about which parts of the material students would need in order to succeed in subsequent courses–and in the workplace. I concluded that covering the material was not the correct instructional goal. It was neither realistic nor necessary for students to learn everything. I had to prioritize.
This revelation occurred about 4 weeks in to the spring semester. I asked students in my Intro to Drug & Alcohol Counseling course, “If you were to seek the services of an addictions counselor for yourself or a friend, what would you expect the counselor to know about each drug?”. In their learning teams, they brainstormed, discussed, and developed a list. Of course, I generated a list based on my knowledge of the curriculum and my experience as a counselor.
Then, we compared lists. I was amazed by their work! I only had to add a few things. That master list became our learning framework. I encouraged students to organize the learning materials using the list and we developed a chart template. During class, we worked in learning teams, and I modified the assessments to match the new framework.
It was hard to “let go” of the mindset of having to cover all the material. In the end, though, the students were able to concentrate their efforts on the essential information. Their results on the modified exams were higher and I’m looking forward to seeing how well they really learned the material as they are asked to apply it in subsequent courses.
I encourage you to really reflect on the material you include in your courses – What do you want students to know a year after the course ends?