Thoughts on Education, 1/31/2012

No links and articles today.  Just some thinking.

I guess the thing on my mind more than anything else is how radical of a change is acceptable and/or appropriate if I am to do a total redesign of my class next semester.  I’d like to jump in whole hog and change everything.  However, there’s the question of how to do it and if it would be accepted by the students and my fellow faculty members if I am doing something completely different.

So, here’s a basic outline of what I would like to do for my hybrid classes:  I would like to remove lecture from the class completely.  They will still have access to my lecture materials, as they do now, ie. through the lecture notes, PowerPoints, and audio podcasts that they have at the moment.  However, they would be material that the students would be responsible for working on outside of class, much like the textbook reading is now.  I would like to move beyond the idea that I am presenting them with the material.  There are two big reasons why I am unsatisfied with the lecture model:

  1. It puts me as an infallible authority on the material.  The students hear me lecture and write it down.  They then parrot those same things back to me on the assessments for the class, as if my interpretation and the things I cover were the only thing that was important out of all of the class.  The relationship of me as the deliverer of information as if from on high is uncomfortable to me, and it just breeds the idea of the students as passive learners.
  2. It covers things the students should have had before.  If I am echoing what the students were supposed to have learned in high school, then what am I doing.  Yes, I might go into more depth.  Yes, I might talk about different things with different emphases.  Yet, at the heart, I am delivering a historical narrative that should be no different from what they have had before.  The idea that a history class should be a chronological accounting of what has happened in history seems ridiculous to me.  If that is what I have trained for and what I get paid for, then this is an easy job.  Anybody can get up there and reread a textbook to them. But, what is that really teaching them?

So, what then takes the place of lecture, as that’s currently what I use 80% of my class time for?  I would like to divide my class of 45 in half, with half meeting on one day a week and the other half meeting on the other day.  Then I would like to have each day have a topic.  The students would come in prepared with having covered the basic information that is necessary and prepared to discuss something in more depth.  We would do history by actually talking about events, people, ideas, and such in history.  I would not give them the narrative and have that stand in as the whole class.  Instead, they would drive the class, through the topics that we would discuss.  The topics would not be comprehensive in nature, and they would not purport to tell the students everything that happened.

This certainly falls into the “flipping the classroom” model, turning the standard class on its head. The thing I worry is that it is too radical.  Could our community college students handle it?  Would they come prepared?  Would they do it?  What resources would I need?  Do I have time to recreate my class?  Is this too ambitious?

An example of what I could do one day comes from what I am currently calling an in-class activity in my class.  The subject is the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911.  The students are responsible for watching a 2-hour video and reading some short biographies of the people involved.  We will then discuss the event in class, talking about what happened, why it happened, what the result was, and how it fits into the history we have been studying.

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of four, student of life, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all-around guy.

3 responses to “Thoughts on Education, 1/31/2012”

  1. William Smith says :

    I think you’d encounter much more resistance from your colleagues than from your students. Not all of the students would come prepared, and not all of them really understand what true discussion entails, but I think you’d find the majority of them to be very receptive to this format, and their discussion skills will improve over time. And for what it’s worth, I think the approach you describe sounds great.

    Incidentally, I’m also thinking about creating a hybrid class for the Fall. I haven’t moved much beyond the initial impulse so far, however.


    • Scott Williams says :

      I have reached the point where I have talked about changing my class for a long time, and I’m always saying I’ll do it next year because I don’t have the time to make the changes. Then I realized that instead of talking about doing it, I need to start trying to make real changes and actually get going. So, this is what I’m trying to do here, put together the ideas, do some research on best practices, and try to get going.


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