Saturday, November 25, 2006

Teaching and Learning Quandries

One of the most profound developments over the last four to five years is the decreased reliance in the classroom on the traditional lecture format. This is particularly the case for smaller classes under thirty students. I am not implying that this phenonenon didn't start much earlier - only that I have become acutely aware of it, more so, recently. With varied learning styles, it makes perfect sense that a professor should not rely on only one medium to convey information. However, what I have also seen is a distressing trend for students to enjoy the collaborative work environment at the expense of others. As the penguins aptly demonstrate, survival of the fittest.

What is the remedy? Let me provide an example from a typical one hour and twenty minute class in criminology. I generally lecture for the first part of class in order to cover the relevant theories or typologies. Then, students are expected to participate in a number of possible activities. First, there is discussion. On the best of days, this seems to go rather poorly. So, I try and show a video clip that highlights the points in question and then ask the class questions. This seems to meet with more success. Second, I incorporate small group work into the final grade. Students work on a case study, theoretical problem, or other application of the material in groups of 2-5 students. For the most part, course evaluations suggest that the small group work is appreciated by the students. Yet, I always see students left behind. They are either not incorporated into the discussion or just appear to be lost. That is our friend the penguin getting pushed over. If you don't understand the material fast enough in a small group the odds are not always good that your fellow group members will help you understand the material (this is what is hoped to be accomplished).

Solution? Beyond floating from group to group? Some have suggested group members grade each other. Anyone with any experience using this technique? Any ideas? My goal is to provide the most conducive environment possible to learning in the classroom. This includes all "penguins". Thoughts and suggestions welcomed.

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