Additional Blog Post – Depth Over Breadth

For my additional blog post I have decided to expand on my teaching pedagogy. My teaching pedagogy aligns closely with Paulo Freire, meaning that I view teaching as an ethical practice where I value the respectful exchange of ideas and opinions while also being mindful of the power I have in the classroom (Freire, 1998). An article by Terry McGlynn tilted “Are You Teaching Content, Or Just Covering Material?” caught my attention because I believe we have an ethical responsibility as educators to encourage critical thinking. With this in mind, McGlynn (2020) argues that covering material is akin to students’ having a breadth of knowledge, but not having the depth of concepts to truly articulate what they learned. This lack of depth also hinders a student’s ability to think critically because they have been restricted to a surface-level understanding of the content. When one “covers material” they are just talking about the topics, but if one “teaches content” they are giving students an opportunity to think critically and deepen their knowledge on a smaller number of topics.

McGlynn (2020) goes on to provide scenarios which promote genuine learning among students. For example, one scenario discusses the utility of having small groups work together to solve a single problem related to a particular theory/concept. In that same amount of time teachers can cover multiple concepts that students barely grasp. When the learning environment is superficial, then we as teachers have failed students miserably. I think this is why we see low attendance in synchronous classes as the weeks go on because students pick up on our teaching styles. Therefore, when things get stressful, humans get practical. Students may then rationalize skipping a class only to catch up on the lecture slides later. This process completely negates the purpose of having synchronous instruction. This also gives false security to students because they may not see a difference in these two types of learning. This isn’t to say that students may not learn just as well, or more, asynchronously — but when a class isn’t set up to be self-guided, moments for genuine learning are missed. I see this more as a cyclical process rather than a linear one because one’s decision to skip a lecture may be reinforced by an instructor’s teaching style.

As I reflect on the points made in this article, I compare my teaching pedagogy to my actual practice. McGlynn (2020) makes a compelling point near the end of the article by suggesting that there are curriculum-bound constraints that make it impossible for educators to engage in this type of in-depth teaching approach. As a graduate teaching assistant, I find myself in this category because there is a certain percentage of content that must be covered in the course I teach. What isn’t clear, however, is how I go about this. As higher education becomes more intentional in accommodating student needs, especially during a pandemic, we may see rapid changes in how instruction is carried out. One solution could be to spread out the content between 2-3 courses, this way teachers and students don’t have to cram so much content into one semester. As someone who teaches human sexuality, I could definitely see students benefitting from a course like mine being a 2-part course. In this scenario, the fundamental concepts are covered in the first course, with the second course covering more advanced, in-depth concepts. One issue here is the potential for students to only take the first course, therefore, missing out on additional important topics covered in the second course.

Until administrators view learning as a process rather than an outcome, we will continue to have courses that apply a breadth framework, rather than one that promotes depth and genuine learning.

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