Lessons Three and Two

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope you had a great holiday vacation and feel ready to tackle the morning tomorrow. To kick off my week I’m happy to share Numbers Three and Two on my list of the most valuable pedagogical lessons I learned from Student Activities.

Number Three – Valuable Learning Happens Outside of the Classroom
We all know that the college classroom is a place where students get an education that is intended to prepare them to make their place in the world. However, I would argue that learning that goes on outside of the classroom can be just as valuable. Specifically, I’m referring to the experiential learning students gain when they take on leadership roles, participate in community service, travel as a class, attend relevant campus events, or join a community of scholars. Although many of these require substantial time and money, there a number of simple ways that we as instructors can incorporate experiential elements such as these into any course.

Invite Speakers: Devoting a class session to introducing students to a practical application of your course material can be a fun way to get them excited about the topic. If you invite a speaker or two to come in to share their real world experiences with your students they can see how the course is applicable outside the university, and they can get some ideas about how to get involved in the field. Alternatively, if your department is inviting a relevant speaker you can cancel class for a day so that you can attend as a class and discuss the next time you meet. Note: This can be more challenging because the best events won’t always be at times that all of your students can attend.

Create Practical Writing Assignments: Creating a writing assignment that can be used outside of the classroom can get students to care more about the work, and it can help make them stronger applicants for powerful, intellectual experiences such as internships or research opportunities. For example, next semester I will be requiring my students to research and prepare a resume for a specific grant, internship, or research assistant position that they think would be valuable for their college career and beyond. They will be submitting a revised resume; giving a 5 minute oral presentation to the class about the opportunity; and explaining how it could be a good addition to their intellectual, professional, and personal development. At the end of the course every student will have the opportunity for me to review any additional application materials they need to prepare if they choose to follow through with their application. If they don’t choose to apply they will at least know what the process generally looks like for the future.

Question for the Week: Do you have any other great ideas that you use in your classes?

Number Two – Authenticity is Priceless
Students know when you are being authentic with them. By this I mean that they can tell when you are truly passionate about your material or being in class, honest with them about the challenges you faced when you first learned it, willing to admit your own mistakes, and open to continue learning yourself. Over the last several years some of my most engaged students have occasionally called me out on this, reminding me in moments when I am “not being myself” in the classroom. As they have noted, this authenticity is valuable to them because it creates an atmosphere where they are free to have fun learning and best contribute to the classroom. Furthermore, authenticity facilitates a democratic classroom, one in which the instructor is not the source of all knowledge. This can be both liberating and intimidating for instructors and students alike. It is for this reason that I understand my call to be authentic is simultaneously the most simple and most challenging suggestion I have to offer.

Question for the Week: What does authentic teaching mean to you?

I hope you have a wonderful week back in classes. I’ll see you next Sunday for my favorite lesson, Number One – My Students are Incredible People.

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