Thursday, December 10, 2009

Looking back at our class

Here are a few of my own observations of the class - some which you've heard before while others are new.

There probably should have been a couple of "take stock" type of sessions in the middle of the course. We did this intensely early on. The session about the blogging last week was quite informative. The twenty minutes or so we devoted yesterday to talking about our class was also informative. One or two other sessions of that sort in the middle of the course might have allowed for a further recalibration.

I do wonder a lot about take aways - what if anything of the course will remain with you next year, and beyond that into the future? When I taught the CHP version of econ principles, I had a goal of influencing students outside reading after the course had concluded - both newspapers and books related to economics. I know I succeeded in that with a couple of students, because I heard from them after the course. So on that score, below is a reading list I included in the first mailing I sent to those registered at the time, which was at the beginning of the summer. If you are looking for reading during the break or sometime into the future, go for it.

Experience and Education by John Dewey
A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample
The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schon
And for those of you taking the course for Comp II credit,
The Best American Essays of 2009 (or 2008 or 2007 or the twentieth century).

If you have any readings to suggest to other members of the class that are consistent with course themes, please suggest those in the comments to this post.

There was a way where the class project had a fundamental conceptual issue underlying it that we didn't fully confront and perhaps we didn't confront it at all. The Campus is quite democratic in the opportunities it provides for students. Regarding outcomes, however, the results are far less democratic. We established that in our very first class session. The conceptual question, using a Drucker frame, is whether the Campus obligation should extend only to providing opportunities for students, or if it should include outcomes as well. Then switch to a Senge frame where there is an interaction between individual behavior and the system. Finally note that you are not outside observers operating under Rawl's veil of ignorance, but rather intense insiders who have for the most part benefited enormously from the current approach. So one might reasonably ask if your own conclusions on this matter are fundamentally sensitive to being an insider and, if so, how one might think this through to compensate for that.

Let me be more specific about that and focus on lectures. Some time ago when I got into Myers-Briggs Personality Typing, I found out from a Web site at Murray State that my type, INTP, which is the Absent Minded Professor or Architect type actually has a predilection for lecture. I've explained that to myself this way. INTPs live to understand why things are the way they are. They want to come to a deep understanding of that and they are happiest when they are working through some such understanding. Lecture provide fodder for such processing. Armed with that fodder, INTPs can do the rest on their own.

I don't know whether INTP is the only type with that ability (or even if MBTI is sufficiently reliable to make arguments this way) but I do believe that certain people have the ability to take information that is presented to them and internalize it in a productive way where the information gets incorporated in their world view or, what happens on occasion, where the information conflicts with their world view so where their world view modifies to take account of that conflict.

Not everyone is so skilled at internalizing information that is presented and for the less skilled lecture is not all that useful. Studies about the effectiveness of lecture create a fairly grim view on that score. Instead, as the forward to the NSSE report by Russ Edgerton that I mentioned in a previous post, what matters is the activities that students do. Get students engaged in activities that promote learning and, lo and behold, they will learn. So the experimental view of teaching that I suggested is about finding those activities and then getting students to partake in them. I don't know that peer mentoring can do much about the former, but it sure should be able to help with the latter, while lecturing doesn't help at all on either count.

Let me turn away from our class project and to you, the students in our class. What is it that you learned from the course. Using Argyris as our guide for this part, I'm guessing you learned something about your espoused theories. Did you learn anything about your theories in use and about bringing your espoused theories closer in line with your theories in use? Think of that in terms of your blogging, in terms of your working in groups, in how you learn on your own, in those things that you value, and in your future direction(s). I don't know those things about you. Perhaps you wrote something about that in the evaluation forms submitted yesterday. If so, great. If not, sometime after the course had concluded and the grades have been posted, perhaps you could send me a note about that. I'm quite curious about what you got out of the class.

Finally, let's consider mountains and molehills. There were a variety of suggestions offered yesterday about how the class might have been done better - get started on the class project from the get go, have lesson plans for every class session, etc. I appreciated hearing those. I had a few obstacles of my own of which the one i want to note here is the dividing of the class into 395 and 396 with additional course work for the 396 students. Though my own workload would have increased as a consequence, I would have preferred it if all students were in 396 and/or even if they registered for 395 they'd have been obligated to do the writing projects, which I believe would have made the class more cohesive because everyone would have gone through a common experience. I wonder if any of the 395 students would have taken the course under that scenario.

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