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Teaching Challenge

07 Oct Posted by in Academics | Comments Off on Teaching Challenge

I’m recurrently impressed with the interest and commitment of so many Mason faculty to teaching and discussions of teaching improvements. Latest evidence is the standing room only crowd signed up for the teaching innovations day next week, sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence.

In this framework, I hope we can use some of the particular challenges of this year to sharpen our discussions of how best to handle different kinds of classes, particularly somewhat larger classes. This is not a ploy to persuade all faculty to accept the increased size, but to expand our use of a situation forced upon us to see what works and what does not, when we’re moved out of our previous comfort zone.

The most obvious plea is to recommend creativity in assessment mechanisms. Some faculty will be forced by class size to cut back writing assignments, and some may feel that they have no choice but to install multiple choice tests. I hope we can limit the latter recourse, at least as exclusive fare, and work on other kinds of exercises, including short writing assignments even in class, to limit the mechanical qualities that even good multiple choice exercises tend to impose.

I also hope — and here I freely admit I go beyond my own experience, into new aspiration spurred in part by good advice from a daughter-teacher — that more of us can use technology to improve opportunities for student participation even when class size proves somewhat intimidating. On-line discussions, questions to which students can respond by email, and various in-class exercises really provide many of the benefits of very small classes, and sometimes more, and not always with a great deal more work.

Always, efforts of these sorts — and many faculty will be way ahead of me in imaginative experience — need to be talked about, problems probed, best practices disseminated. That’s why I’m doubly glad to be in an academic culture where teaching issues loom large, where they’re taken as serious opportunities for discussion and learning.