As educators, we prepare and use many planning materials in teaching our respective courses. We sweat over learning objectives, we develop concept maps and we careful choose learning activities and assessment methods to best measure our learning objectives. We then consider the alignment of our course design components. After we have lovingly crafted our course, we launch it in the lecture hall or laboratory. And then we wait. We wait to see how our learning activities were received and how our students fared in their assessments and we wait to receive our course evaluations.
Sometimes the feedback we receive on our teaching is in line with our expectations, but more often than we would like, it is not. How could such meticulous planning result in such misunderstanding? How is it that the product of such hard work can be so poorly received?
Quite possibly, it is not the work we did but rather the work we did not do in communicating our intentions to our students. I do not suggest that we walk them through a course design workshop, but what I do suggest is that we telegraph some of our intentions. If we include a learning activity clearly suited to someone who learns well through reflective observation, we (as instructors) may wish to let the other students in the class know that we have also included activities geared at those who learn best through active experimentation (of course, we need not use this formal terminology in our explanation). This simple act of verbalizing our intentions and alerting our students to the consideration we have for all learning styles may suffice to ward off grumblings at best and non-participation at worst. Likewise, in our assessment rubrics, if we highlight that the emphasis in the grading breakdown aligns with the course learning outcomes and curriculum expectations, we can avoid many perceptions of unfairness or unreasonableness. Many such opportunities exist within our planned course material to make our teaching intentions plain to the students.
Such efforts at transparency can serve as guides to students as we shepherd them through the course material. While taken individually they involve small amounts of effort and yet, collectively they can reap significant rewards if they help to bring students on board with our pedagogic plan. After all, don’t we all appreciate knowing where we are going and why?
The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.