As I look ahead to the syllabus assignment for GRAD 5114, I am pondering my current teaching practices and whether they are really “enough.” I’ve touched on my teaching style before; I sometimes feel as I am doing my duty because I have moved beyond a pure lecture-and-multiple-choice exam format, incorporating videos and fun application assignments, pulling contemporary examples from the media and the world around us. This week’s readings got me thinking, though, about whether I have accidentally (that is, despite my best efforts) sunk into a routine of my own. After all, students don’t always seem to resonate with my examples, and sometimes my activities turn into generic “think of a situation in your life when [insert principle here]”-style discussions. Until this week, I was at a loss as to how I could improve this.
I was particularly drawn to Carnes’ “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire.” The students and teachers he describes are doing things that are just cool, like creating strategy games based on real historical events. These are activities that would make me look forward to going to class. I reflected back on some of the activities I thought were cool once upon a time. For example, in one class, I asked students to write a case study of a movie character suspected of having a mental illness, and to rate the accuracy of the film’s portrayal. Wouldn’t it have been more fun for students to tape their own versions of the film’s trailer in order to show what an authentic portrayal would look like? Another example that comes to mind is the project where students were asked to use operant conditioning to solve a “real-world” problem that affects VT undergrads. But why didn’t I ask them to try out their proposals, rather than just write and present them? Surely there would be lots of opportunities to use social media to get the word out about their ideas. Did I think they would complain about the effort? Would it just have been too difficult for me to grade? It seems like the potential hurdles to be confronted in this process might be worth the potential benefits.
I have to ask one question, though – where is the incentive for designers and coding gurus to develop these types of activities? Must the burden of developing and enacting these activities and tools fall squarely on the shoulders of teachers, or can educators and engineers collaborate more effectively and infuse these hands-on activities into curricula? After all, I have to blame part of my problem on an apparent lack of creativity, or perhaps more specifically, the experience of having reached the asymptote of my creative skills (at least until I get more coffee and a few days of sunny vacation). I think that part of the reason why innovation has stalled in education is that creative ideas like this take money, and they aren’t always rewarded, especially when a big grant with other clear and important implications is competing for attention and funding. I have hope, though, that eventually the tide will turn, once word about these exciting developments and programs and their potential positive effects on learning gets out.
And to my classmates who are also grappling with their definition of what a “good teacher” is and whether or not they are one, I say this – someone once told me that if you care enough to question your teaching abilities, you’re already doing better than most of the other teachers anyway. So take heart, and press on.