Relating Through Examples — Julia Woodhall

With the beginning of the winter term well under way, many instructors are thinking about course material and how to relate concepts and material to students. As a young instructor, this has always been a concern of mine. When I poll my classes on how they learn, the use of examples always comes up as a favourite learning tool and way to remember and retain information. I have always thought that this is great! It is fun to think of examples and can really clarify what you are teaching. However, what happens when your students cannot relate to the examples that you give them?

I teach in the area of Sociology and it is often a good idea to bring in real world events to help students understand course concepts. However, last semester I was faced with the shocking reality that I may be out of touch with the youth of today. As a younger instructor, I did not think that this would be a problem I would come across for years, but when I used the double cohort to explain a concept to my students, the class was confused and they didn’t really remember the terminology used for those caught in the middle of Ontario’s dismissal of OAC. I was shocked! Despite my best efforts, my students were not getting the example I provided without a lot of lengthy explanation.

This has resulted in my reflection on who our undergraduate students are and what their lived realities are. Students come from many different backgrounds and grew up in a different time than most course instructors. As instructors, we can use examples to connect with our students, appear to relate and assist with the overall learning process. But how do we understand who our students are and which examples with resonate?

While grappling with these thoughts and trying to determine which examples are most appropriate for my class this term, I came across the mindset list. This annual list, published by Ron Nief and Tom McBride of Beloit College, provides instructors with a picture of the general North American 18 year old. This list includes the socio-political climate students grew up in, major events they have experienced in their lifetimes and pop-culture references that they should be aware of. If I had read this list before assuming students’ knowledge of the double cohort, perhaps I would have chosen a more appropriate example. Until I read this list, I was unaware that the students today have never watched a music video on MTV and they have always had the option of taking women’s studies courses. This is something I wanted to share, as I continue to strive to be more accessible and relatable.

Leave a Reply