Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Considering Student Learning: Departmental Responsibilities

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING A DEPARTMENT CAN
DO IS_______________, BECAUSE _______________.

Seated at round-tables, each participant completed that sentence quietly and then explained his/her points to colleagues. The individual ideas were then distilled into a 'poster' for display at the opening reception. The clarity and specificity of the ideas reveals a broad understanding of the nature of effective reform. The common theme of ...give attention to the student as an individual and bring them to accept personal responsibility for their learning...because students who are motivated learn best... also suggests a growing awareness of the need to focus on learning rather than on teaching in the process of renewal. For example:

  • Hire and maintain diverse [diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, and academic focus] faculty who communicate and respect one another and their differences, and because we are role models who do not get a second chance to inspire most students.
  • Incorporate diverse teaching methods, because what works for one student may not be what works best for another, and because it gets faculty and students engaged, so that independent thinking and creativity are encouraged.
  • Have regular departmental retreats to reflect on what students are getting from courses in the light of the overall goals for their education, because it takes a community of learning to make education work, let alone change it!

POSTER:

  • Teach the student as an individual
  • Foster the ability to apply class material to the real world.

Individual ideas:

  1. Have a personal connection with each individual student, because students are more activated if they feel they have a mentor who is personally invested and interested in their success.
  2. Have stimulating and challenging courses, stimulating because student interest and motivation is key to their success, and challenging because it requires and provides meaning to their instruction.
  3. Enable, foster and guide (EFG) the students. This leads to innate interest, because they excel at what really interests then and we thus cannot but help them in learning.
  4. Help them make connections between what is presented in class and to real world scenarios.


POSTER:

  • Provide opportunities and encourage faculty development in excellence in teaching, leading to innovative approaches to learning
  • Provide students with experiences to become independent learners
  • Encourage participation in diverse learning activities: research, internships, peer tutoring, student portfolios, service, etc.

Individual ideas:

  1. Provide instruction in team-building and problem-solving, because many students find this to be a new type of learning and would benefit more if they have exposure prior to being expected to participate in this way of learning.
  2. Put students in front of a faculty who obviously care about teaching, because that will translate into student loyalty and the students will think like professionals in that discipline, because the process of science must be internalized.
  3. Make students feel they are a part of the learning process, otherwise they tend to become disinterested.
  4. Help students learn how to figure things out on their own because this is useful, not only in college, but throughout their lives.
  5. Encourage them to participate in an independent research or internship opportunities; it helps them build confidence in their own abilities to tackle something outside of the traditional learning environment.
  6. Provide opportunities for faculty to improve their teaching skills, because most college faculty have virtually no training in teaching methods, and because if faculty are not interested and motivated, neither will be the students.


POSTER:

  • Engage the individual student in and out of the classroom.
  • Have regular faculty meetings, reflecting on where and what and how students are learning, because this will help promote change.
  • Mentoring.

Individual ideas:

  1. Mentoring, because it will develop the student as a professional, and turn them into a future mentor in order to keep the coming generations of students on the path of success.
  2. Get to know students and their background, so that the learning process is individualized in a student-teacher team.
  3. Have high standards and multiple opportunities for students to grow/succeed/develop professionally, because each student is different and can contribute to the department and departmental community in a unique manner.
  4. Make tutoring available and attractive, especially for first year students, because this keeps them interested and helps them gain confidence.
  5. Have regular departmental retreats to reflect on what students are getting from courses in the light of the overall goals for their education, because it takes a community of learning to make education work, let alone change it!
  6. Be flexible and supportive of changes, because changes in societal needs may need to be reflected in curriculum and learning styles of students.


POSTER:

  • Foster critical thinking and encourage active learning
  • Hire good people and provide the time and resources for faculty to help students succeed.
  • Instill ownership of ideas and encourage students to accept personal responsibility for learning.
  • Make the discipline accessible to all students and encourage majors to think critically about the role of science in society.


Individual ideas:

  1. Make the discipline accessible to 'nonmajors' and encourage 'majors' to think critically about science and its role in society, because the success of an increasingly technological society depends on socially-conscious scientists and scientifically-literate non-scientists.
  2. Encourage them to be active participants in their own learning and to hold high standards, because students who come with the attitude that tuition payments 'buy' a degree are unlikely to grow intellectually.
  3. Ensure students success by engaging curiosity, because it brings learning to life.
  4. Teach them to view sciences critically, because science influences society and technology; this will give them the ability to continue learning and to act as individuals in the workplace.
  5. Provide interesting questions and the resources to pursue answers, because students succeed when they take ownership of a question and their answer (if arrived at with sufficient resources).
  6. Hire good teacher/scholars because they will bring creative ideas and methods into the classroom and will mentor students research colleagues in cutting-edge research settings that will integrate classroom experiences and teach independent problem-solving skills.


POSTER:

  • Do active applications of concepts: exploration/research/fieldwork
  • Foster communication: advising/mentoring; faculty/faculty
  • Give students autonomy over their learning.

Individual ideas:

  1. Engage students in real and current work in the discipline, because it increases motivation, prepares students to perform post-graduation, and creates faculty/student, student/student and faculty/faculty interaction.
  2. Integrate materials across courses and connect to student experiences, because repetition allows them to see the themes and key concepts, reinforces materials, and provides motivation for learning.
  3. Provide a balanced program that offers both research and applied opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, because (for example) if we wish to produce psychologists, graduate school is necessary and these experiences offered by research and applied activities offer the best access to graduate school. More important, these skills also serve non-graduate school students as well.
  4. Get departments to work together, because they can create common goals.
  5. Create a feeling of belonging to a community of learning (of both students and faculty), because students who feel valued and recognized feel more invested in the process and feel more invested in the outcome.
  6. Have faculty act as facilitators and mentors rather than as didactic sages, because it allows students to be more actively involved in the learning process.... learning how to learn.
  7. Provide good advising, because the field and opportunities within the field are so broad and the students are so diverse.


POSTER:

  • Find out about the diversity of student interest and shape it to the evolving discipline.
  • Use external review in order to facilitate faculty toward agreement on common goals.

Individual ideas:

  1. Consider that success is becoming masters/experts using smoke and mirrors, because magic is an excellent way to alter reality and perceptions.
  2. Have a focused, external review and 'compare up', because it changes the political dynamics within the department.
  3. Define or build a common goal, with faculty buy-in, because people will then work towards the same thing together.
  4. What works is the development of clean, measurable academic goals to point people to the target, because you cannot act unless the target is out in front.


POSTER:

  • Have strong and positive student-faculty relationships.
  • Start from the students' conceptual model.
  • Stay current in best practices.

Individual ideas

  1. Give students a chance to voice and debate their views and to articulate the reasons for their views as they learn about others, because all learning must be filtered through students' initial ideas and this gives them an opportunity to develop and change those ideas.
  2. Provide positive relationships with faculty, because that relationship will allow the modeling of quality learning, with clear and high expectations, enthusiasms and confidence in learning.


POSTER:

  • Provide mentors and opportunities for active learning and research.

Individual ideas:

  1. Let them see the big picture, because then students can shape their own goals and see the relevance of their education.
  2. Instill a love of learning, and teach skills necessary for life-long learning, because science, job descriptions, individual circumstances will constantly change and to function, students must be able to adapt, adjust, learn new skills, etc.
  3. Faculty must be approachable and engageable, because students who are inhibited from working closely with faculty will not learn in the deep and thoughtful way we desire.


POSTER:

  • Teach critical independent thinking skills, persuading with data (communication) and mentoring.

Individual ideas:

  1. Help them (all students) to learn clear writing, because of the value of the ability to persuade others, with data.
  2. Hold them to high standards, for obvious reasons!
  3. Determine what your students will be doing after graduation and emphasize those aspects in the classroom.
  4. Teach independent thinking, because for success in life they will need the universal tools of life-long-learning.
  5. Motivate, motivate, motivate, because students do not take full advantage of what is currently available.


POSTER:

  • Prepare students to educate themselves.
  • Make sure every student makes a strong connection with at least one faculty member.
  • Encourage creativity and passion, because then students work!

Individual ideas:

  1. Help students learn to ask and recognize meaningful questions, because in life it is important to know how to ask questions that have answers and to know when they have been answered.
  2. Allow creativity, with semester-long projects without rigid guidelines; be aware of advances in the field of study, through Internet and library research; master the tools of the trade.
  3. Keep the curriculum relevant to national trends, so they will be prepared to join the workforce as professionals.
  4. Clearly articulate departmental goals and communicate them to students and tie the teaching and learning of students to those goals, because then you are focused on accomplishing things of value to students.
  5. Expect students to succeed, because they are all capable of learning and succeeding.


POSTER:

  • The department has to buy into and take responsibility for the curriculum and pedagogy as a team, not as a collection of individuals.
  • Education must be a shared collaboration between students and faculty, not a one-way street.
  • Provide active learning experiences that promote rigor and independent critical thinking and connections to the real world.

Individual ideas:

  1. Appoint and reward a dedicated, enthused and visionary chairperson, one who has a vision for success, because this person becomes the advocate, 'delegater' and implementer of success.
  2. In the context of the major, demonstrate the integration of the subject matter to other areas of study, because no one applies his/her discipline in a vacuum.
  3. Clearly articulate its learning outcomes for its majors, a set of outcomes that are jointly agreed upon and incorporated throughout the curriculum, and shared explicitly with the students, because all faculty need to agree and because students need to understand the why and the how of the major.

We invite the PKAL community to comment on and/or add to this list.
Send to pkal@pkal.org or submit a comment, below.