What happens when students lead parts of a course on their own (feedback)

In a previous article, Allison Jegla and I emphasized the importance of experimentation for more effective classroom teaching. We discussed two different approaches that we know faculty members tried and had results in, and we shared other information we collected in our research for our new book, Becoming a great university. In this part, I will describe a teaching test that I conducted recently, also featured in the book.

I regularly teach first-year seminars for new students at Harvard University — classes specifically aimed at first-year students, with enrollments of 14. The whole point is to encourage students to talk, get some airtime in class, and connect with each other and the professor. The only requirement for professors is that they host meals for all students at certain times of the semester. It encourages conversation in a more informal setting and helps to foster a sense of community which is the main goal of new seminars in many colleges.

I decided that I would try a two-year general education exam where I would teach a new seminar on tackling the difficult challenges of modern American higher education. I will teach the same seminar twice, using a different teaching method each time, and then compare the results of each method. Each year I set a common starting point for each group of students:

You just got a 150 million grant from a generous foundation. They give you this amazing gift because they appreciate your creativity and your ability to think in unique ways. Your work this semester A new Liberal Arts College is designed from the ground up. Everything can be done in fancy ways. You can organize faculty recruitment, student admissions, your new college staff recruitment process, curriculum requirements, how you hire food service staff and doorman staff কারণ whatever you want. The only rule is you will need to balance your budget each year. And of course, you must run your new college with impeccable ethics. You will be the founding member of this new campus. Good luck.

Since every full seminar class at Harvard consists of novices, most of whom have little or no experience. Any In college, I felt I had to ask students some questions — basically a class set জন্য to help them start thinking productively. I have distributed a list of questions that anyone should think about when designing a new college, such as:

  • What is our goal enrollment?
  • Should the college follow the traditional four-year model? Or should it be adjusted, for example, to change the deadline to three regular academic years and two full summers?
  • How many courses (if any) are required? How many voters?
  • Should the new college create and organize traditional academic departments such as history, chemistry and religion?
  • Would we give priority to admission to a specific group or subgroup of applicants?
  • Which two or three subjects might be most useful for distinguishing our newly formed college, where you have virtually no barriers to start from another college? Do we have to be “special”?

For one semester, I taught this class by leading an active discussion among first year students and posing key questions to the whole group. The students then engage in vigorous and enjoyable discussions in our roundtable class conversations. I led the follow-up discussion and summarized the student consensus at the end of each week’s class session. My only two requirements for the students were that they (a) come to the class after completing their reading assignments thoroughly and (b) each student contributes by speaking to the class at least twice during each seminar session.

Each student has spoken at least twice in each class meeting. Even better, this simple requirement has become a source of much laughter for all semesters of our class. The students seemed very happy to find out who had spoken so much, and sometimes a student chooses a classmate to get their “moment of the sun to transform everyone’s thinking.”

On a 1-to-5 scale, with 5 being the most favorable, the overall student rating for this first-year seminar was 4.6. This is relatively high – although several seminars taught by other faculties score higher. I was, balanced, happy with the results.

When students lead the class

Qualitative feedback has been found to be particularly helpful in giving me a good idea of ​​how to design Seminar 2 which will use a markedly different educational format. In short, about four out of my 14 students in the quality course evaluation told me so kindly, kindly, respectfully and politely that they thought they could be more creative in class if I was invited as an instructor. Them, Students, to organize and lead weekly discussions, even if only for a small portion of our class sessions. They mentioned that since I always conducted conversations, they didn’t all feel the agency or the urgency to “take responsibility for our own education” (these words are a direct quote from a student).

So the following year I hosted another first-year seminar, again on designing a brand-new liberal arts college from scratch, and the topics were the same as the previous year. But the instructional plan was different. Now I have divided 14 newcomers into seven pairs. Each couple received a schedule on the first day of class, informing them that they would be on duty for 30 minutes in a given week. I suggested what their main focus should be, but each pair was given the task of leading the discussion around the table. Student-discussion leaders had almost complete freedom to design their half-hour. Their only limitation was that they actually had to lead the discussion and ask good questions to the class focusing on their assigned topic.

Also, a few months before I was teaching this second year of the seminar, I was invited to a dinner party at a friend’s house. He had 12 people at the dinner table. Everyone was chatting on a nice evening, and about halfway through, my host shook his glass and said, “I want every gentleman here to get up tonight and take two seats to your left. That way you can sit down with two new dinner partners — two new friends বাকি the rest of our time together. ”

I adapted the idea for our Class 14 students. Halfway through the semester, when each of the seven pairs had the opportunity to lead a vigorous class discussion, I surprised the students by creating seven new pairs that would lead the discussion on the topics scheduled for the second half of the semester.

At the end of the course there was both good news and advice for future teaching in assessing the students. First, with the same instructor (I), initial syllabus and homework readings and written assignments, our class average rating increased from 4.6 to 4.9 the previous year. It had a remarkable course rating and was clearly linked to changes in course structure. After all, the trainer was the same guy.

Beyond the quantitative summary, anonymous qualitative responses were eye-opening.

1 Search: Students mentioned that one of the reasons they spent so much time in this class was because they knew they would have two presentations together with their seminar partner. They also knew that they had to come to class every week to be exceptionally ready and ideally ready to come up with some new ideas. One student wrote, “I knew I would be in front of the classroom in two weeks leading our seminar discussion with my discussion partner. Of course, I wanted our class discussion session to be successful. So when other people in our seminars were leading the discussion, I always worked extra hard to get well prepared. I thought it was important to show my respect and affection to my classmates by always being ready to speak in discussion sessions. I hoped they would reciprocate and do the same when it was my turn. “

Finding 2: Several students (not all) wrote that they learned or polished two valuable skills because of this seminar format. One skill — quite simply া was to learn how to lead a constructive group discussion. Each of my students had to think hard about different key questions: How do I set the time to lead the discussion? How do I make sure I’m being included? How much should I say as a discussion leader versus inviting constructive conversation from others? How do I know if this is a good time to move on from one topic to the next?

A second skill student was learning how to work effectively with a peer to achieve good results when each student needed a group discussion co-leadership not only to lead but also to have a fruitful conversation. It takes some planning to implement fruitful negotiations. Both students in each pair had to learn better ways to work constructively with their partner.

Search 3: In this second seminar format many students wrote in their course assessment that they hoped to use the skills they had learned in this seminar to become more effective members of their classroom community for the next three years. I have no systematic way of knowing for sure if this was actually the case for most classes. Yet since more than a few student leadership skills have brought this notion of transferability to another class, I hope they meant what they said.

All in all, I have found that the idea of ​​giving students some agency – keeping them in charge and basically learning what they need to lead – leads to a positive outcome that students describe as uniquely valuable for college and both. . This illustration takes home the value of teaching and experimenting with new classroom concepts. Even the idea of ​​trying this truly humble combination came to me many years before it came to me.

And how much does it cost a college or university for a professor to organize and implement something like such a teaching test? The exact answer — the third decimal place ন্য is zero. A university does not have to be rich to do this.

Of course, I was satisfied with the results of my experiments, but it is unrealistic to assume that every educational innovation will lead to successful results. That will not happen. A strong university should encourage faculty to try new things and reward such innovative endeavors. Regardless Whether a particular idea succeeds. When the results of a particular new learning plan are good, everyone wins. Yet every university should assume that a large part of the new concept will not work. If the idea of ​​a new education were obvious or simple, it would probably have been widely accepted many years ago. Clearly, this is an ongoing process of innovation and experimentation with classroom teaching that should always be rewarded.

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