Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Students Getting It (In Spite of Me)

Yesterday I attended a teaching seminar in which a bunch of my fellow instructors and I wondered whether having a clear and explicit theme for a class helps students learn.

Certainly, it seems reasonable to assume that if a teacher knows what he or she is doing, then students are apt to learn more; however, lazybones that I am, I couldn’t help but push back at that a bit, probably with the hope that if it doesn’t really matter, then I won’t have to prepare as much as I now do for the classes I teach.

I couched this in terms that, believe it or not, I do actually believe: I’m not entirely sure classes that are well-organized around questions, problems, or issues that instructors can clearly articulate really do provide the most transformative learning experiences. After all, if I know exactly what I expect students to get out of a class, then that might be all they get; if I’m not certain what we’re trying to do, magic can happen.


Anyway, as a matter of fact, I do usually know what I’m trying to accomplish in a given course, even most courses, and usually, as a matter of fact, most of the classroom activities we engage in. (Not that I always reach those outcomes, but still, most of the time—except after the infrequent late-night midweek bike ride—the general idea is there.)

In Logic, though, which I’m teaching this quarter, I’ve tended to be less sure about the point of it all. (The main reason I studied logic as an undergraduate was to get out of math classes.)

So this morning, I asked my logic class what they thought the reason for our study of logic was and they wrote answers like learning to analyze arguments, and persuade people without appealing to emotion, and critiquing the mumbo-jumbo of media and politics!

Several though also said they just didn’t want to have to take math.


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