EH.net is owned and operated by the Economic History Association with the support of other sponsoring organizations.
EH.T: Re: Lecturing: is there a better way? (fwd)
================= ECONHIST.TEACH POSTING ================= I"m a little late picking up on this thread because I'm been off free-riding on my husband's membership in the Eastern Finance Association (THEY meet in Hilton Head; hmmmm, I'll be on the arrangements committee if the EHA wants to meet there) ... Universities are WAY behind the curve in thinking about how people learn. In part, we expect students to arrive already having figured out how THEY learn; we are the scholars, we give them whatever we have in whatever format works for us -- it's their problem to figure out how to learn it. And I think to some extent that does work with some students. But most students coming in now do not have the foggiest notion how to learn something (at least, not at Villanova) -- they know how to follow directions and psyche out what the professor wants, and they get immensely frustrated when asked to behave differently. If I were teaching principles of economics, I would probably combine a lot of lecturing with one-to-one tutoring (I used to when I taught it some time ago) -- because teaching principles is more a matter of EXPLAINING something. I learned teaching math years ago to study faces and provide opportnities to talk with students who were not getting the material -- you get them to talk it BACK to you, and when they can, then they understand it (having them tutor each other would work too, but in the class sizes I've had -- 35 or 40 -- the system I used to use worked okay). When I teach history survey, that's a little more problematic. I actually like the approach where the professor lectures two days a week and a grad student takes them once a week for small discussions of the reading. But it's two time-intensive for me to do that myself as the sole instructor of the course. I find myself totally overwhelmed by their lack of basic information about American history, and torn between lecturing at those little blank slates out there, making it as entertaining a dog and pony show as I know how. That can backfire, however -- introducing Vietnam by discussing the Chinese and French colonization of the region, I mentioned that's why Vietnamese food is so great and everybody loves all those restaurants -- sure enough, one student wrote on an exam that a major result of the Vietnam War was the spread of Vietnamese restaurants in America ... (and she wasn't kidding.) They read some monographs, but I don't like the results. So I'm trying to think of ways to incorporate group-based learning (as Marty does and I don't know how she pulls it off; and as they do in exec ed, more on that later). I have never been happy with whatever format I have tried in econ history because I can't get a level field in that class, which I"ve mentioned before -- I have everything from off-the-charts mathphobes to upperclassmen with a fairly sophisticated understanding of economics in that class, and am daunted by how to cover the spread ... The one class that I have had tremendous success with is my women's history class. I have 40 in a section, and they are there because they WANT to be; for most of them this may be the one course they really remember. I give them a topics book with essays that draw different conclusions from the same evidence or use different evidence to draw different conclusions or show different perspectives from different generations, etc. They have to do a reading diary, where they must summarize each essay, briefly discuss the evidence used, and then compare the conclusions. After that they can write on whatever it makes them think of, like a diary. I tell them to get a three-hole notebook and each assignment is due the day it is to be discussed. They are to give me a xerox, and keep the original -- for two reasons; first, so they don't quickly scribble their assignment while the discussion is going on (learned that the hard way) and second, in case a catastrophe happens at home or in my office and I lose an assignment (uh, learned that the hard way, too). I pass around a seating chart at the beginning of the class, so I can call on students by name (I am AWFUL with names). I should mention that I have in the previous class given a lecture contextualizing the material in terms of American history, and perhaps also the historiographical issues. The whole time I talk about what I do for a living as a rsearcher, sometimes even being so crass as to drop first names and describe people -- so they get the idea that PEOPLE DO THIS. Then we begin discussing the readings, starting with their giving me the themes of the essays. I try to keep my trap shut (and if you know me you know how hard that is .....) and let them tell ME the thesis -- everything goes on the board, with an area designated for each essay. This is important: all comments are equal and at least get an "OK"; sometimes I repeat the comment back to make sure we have it right; if they don't notice two comments are contradictory I may point it out and ask how we are going to resolve that problem. Once they start TALKING, the discussion can really take off. If we get the meat done, then we can play a little (which has even included amusing discussions of social habits, one of my favorites where I was informed of the term "male slut" -- the class is usual ly coed, but on the occasions when it's all-female I am afraid we can get a TAD r-rated with these subjects. Well -- this does get them participating, it does get them thinking about it, and it gets them enthusiastic. Most of all, they begin to see that research and writing and interpretation is a matter of making DECISIONS, constantly making decisions. I want them to develop a feel for SEEING how the writer, or the speaker, is making decisions -- to try to think LIKE a writer. (Some of this is the way you teach writing to younger kids, by the way -- the point is to get them to think of writing and reading and thinking not as a CHORE to please the teacher and get a grade, but as something that is actually useful. And fun.) As the class progresses, the ones who didn't know how to read a text critically start learning from the others. And as I get familiar with names and faces and their writing, I will begin to encourage the shy ones who I know have interesting things to say to speak up -- by telling them precisely that -- and then positively reinforcing ANYTHING they say. You have to be careful with that; most of my students, at least, are real sensitive to criticism. We work hard, we have a good time, they tell me they love the class so I think it works. But I think you would have to have some pretty sophisticated students to pull it off in an economic history course. This went on too long, but the final comment -- Marty is on the cutting edge here; the "in" learning technique is group learning, and it can work well for a number of reasons. If you can get the students to focus on solving a problem rather than fulfilling a requirement, they will do a much better job. Most of them in real life are pretty competent at stuff -- you have to induce them to attack scholarly problems with competence as well. Working in groups also helps deal with the variability in students -- each gets to put into the group what he/she does best; and there is something about this age that is good at helping each other, or working together for a common cause (witness the way they all like to do Special Olympics as groups). I do not like the way I have seen my colleagues in history try this, tho -- it has usually been in the form of group projects, where some students end up free-riding on one or two who actually do the work. Not fair, and not the point. I know in exec ed it's usually done in small doses, trying to solve a case, for example -- well, certainly problems in economic history could be approached as cases. For a real fun source on thinking about this stuff that is totally whacko but I still love it (just giggle at the outdated language) pick up "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" in your school library, real retro-sixties -- but remarkably good if you can get past the old buzzwords. -- Ciao -- Mary Schweitzer ============ FOOTER TO ECONHIST.TEACH POSTING ============ * To post a message to this list, send it to ECONHIST.TEACH@cs.muohio.edu. * To get all the messages posted to this list only once a day, send the message "set ECONHIST.TEACH mail digest" to email@example.com. * To view past posting to this list, look in the directory "List Archive" in the Cliometric Society Server. The address is: cs.muohio.edu. * For more information and instructions, send the message "info ECONHIST.TEACH" to firstname.lastname@example.org. ==================================================== >