Showing posts from June, 2011

Spared Dimes and Shadow Lines

Sitting in a meeting yesterday it occurred to me that I have become that person I once snickered at in younger days.  Whenever one of the older guys in my labor union would start to talk about building the interstate highway system or some other ancient "war story," my brother and I would roll our eyes and begin softly humming "Once I built a railroad, made it run..."

And then, yesterday, I found myself bringing up something that took place in 1994.  We were discussing how to prepare for accreditation and, having done it twice before, I had some thoughts on how to go about it.  Everyone listened deferentially and then explained to me why I was wrong and that we should do it the same inefficient way we did it twice before. 

No matter.  I don't get to decide these things.  I was more struck by the fact that I had referenced events from 1994.  Nineteen-ninety-four?  For crying out loud.   No one else in the room was even employed by the college then.  Is this wha…

Fishing for Criticism

Spring evaluations showed up in our faculty mailboxes yesterday, and like everyone else I read them closely.  In general my teaching evals are positive and sometimes really, really positive.  My 100-level Humanities section this past spring gave me an overall 5.0 on a five point scale.  Can't get much better than that.

Even so, I always have mixed feelings about positive course evaluations.    Maybe it's because they do a poor job of measuring whether the students actually learned anything.  In the end, it's just self-reported opinion, not a test of their abilities.  Of course hearing that I'm a great teacher is better than the alternative, but  I've always mistrusted compliments.  I know what an ambition-less bum I really am.  Besides, no mere formulation of words will ever erase a lifetime of self-doubting. (Oh, if only it could!)

Beyond that, positive evals don't help me improve my teaching.  Here's what I mean: one of the questions on the form asks stud…

The Myth of Expertise

The fox knows many things, But the hedgehog knows one big thing.                    -- Archilocus For the past few days I've been attending our college's annual summer teaching institute.  Every year for the past seven or so years we bring in a nationally-recognized figure in higher education to talk about teaching and learning.  And every year we are told some variant of the same message: lecturing at students doesn't work, cramming your courses full of content that you absolutely have to cover doesn't work, and teacher-centered courses in which the professor's expertise is the most precious thing in the room just does not work.  The research and evidence on all of this is definitive.

This year's presenter said much the same thing. He showed us how staging opportunities for students to naively wrestle with a problem before having sufficient information was a powerful method for helping them to see the relevance of the information. To demonstrate this, he put us …