Thoughts on Education – 2/5/2012

Just try to find any actual news on educational topics on Super Bowl Sunday.  I dare you.  There’s not much out there, so I really don’t have any articles to bring forward here.  Today, I will just put in a brief word on what I’m thinking about these days.

I am unsatisfied with the status quo in education.  I seek change.  The problem that I have is getting to that change.  I have so many ideas but I do not know what will work and what won’t.  I have taught in many different ways over the time that I’ve been teaching, and the one constant has been change.  I do something different every semester just about, trying things out and seeing what works.  If it works, I keep it.  If it works sort of, I make changes.  If it doesn’t work, I drop it.

I started my teaching career in the most traditional way, working with discussion sections as a graduate student.  I did that for five years, working under numerous different professors.  My first was a several-hundred-person section under Jackson Spielvogel doing a Nazism and Fascism class.  That one was great, as we also had undergrad TAs in the mix, so we were all being taught how to be an effective TA.  After finishing up my comprehensive exams, I was put out there as a graduate lecturer.  What is interesting about that is that the only guidance I was given for how to teach my own sections was what I had done as a TA.  I don’t think the first teaching experiences went badly, but it was certainly a case of learning on the job.  And, as my only real model was teaching through lecture, that’s what I did.  Lecture and overhead projector images to start, with a move to PowerPoint not too long after that.  I taught multiple different classes at grad school, eventually leaving to get a job teaching at the community college where I am now.

Since being here, I have tried to adapt and change.  I became an online teacher as that was a requirement of the job.  I have moved to other things because I want to reach the students.  You know, “engagement” and all of that.  I just am not satisfied with passive delivery of information to the students, but finding other options are hard to work with and find.  I always feel like I’m on my own with this process.  So, I try something, test it out, see how it works, and move on in one way or another.  I have slowly moved to a greater online presence, regardless of the delivery format.  I now have an extensive online class and supplemental classroom for my in-class students.  In fact, I am mostly hybrid now, with all of the quizzing, homework and exams taking place outside of the classroom.  The only thing that’s left in class right now are the lectures, and, if you’ve been reading my other blogs here, you know how interested I am in the idea of “flipping” the classroom.  I would like to stop being the so-called “sage on  the stage” and turn into the class into a more interactive experience for the students, where they learn real skills rather than memorize the material.

The problems with this are many.  For one, I still feel like I’m going to be doing this largely on my own.  Second, how do you hold the students responsible for doing the work outside of class that has them ready to discuss or work on more specific topics in class?  Third, when you are moving away from the traditional ways of assessment, how do you hold to the state standards at that point?  These are all things I’m going to be thinking about as time goes by here.  I can’t promise I’ll come to solutions, but that’s what’s on my mind.

Now, as I am distracted by the Super Bowl streaming in the window next to me here, I will close for today.

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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