Developing Purpose Statements to Shape our Courses

I have found that the starting point for turning routine courses into transformative learning experiences is the formulation of a purpose statement that puts into words the potential long-term benefits of the course content. This purpose statement is the very first thing that students read on my course syllabi. It even comes before the course description. The purpose statement then governs the shape and content of the course in its delivery. It is this search for purpose and significance—and not the learning outcomes—that communicates a potentially contagious passion for the material.

Online Discussion Strategies That Create Community

One of the biggest complaints about online courses is that students feel disconnected. They don’t know the teacher or fellow students in the class. In online courses, teachers regularly use discussion to make connections with and between students. In a survey of over 350 faculty, 95 percent used it and 87 percent required student participation in online exchanges.The authors of the paper referenced below used a “Community of Inquiry” framework for their exploration-specific strategies that…

Jigsaw Puzzles for Visually Reviewing Material

A group of science faculty describes using a commercially available, inexpensive puzzle maker (Sizzix Puzzle Maker Die No. 2) to make figures (drawings and diagrams) into puzzles. Students got six puzzles with six pieces per puzzle in each package. The figures in the puzzle pack had been discussed that day in class. Students taped the puzzle pieces together and then wrote a caption appropriate for each figure. Completion of the puzzles was not a course requirement, and the finished puzzles were not graded, although the professor read and shared feedback on them.

Lasting Effects of Inquiry-Based Learning

The research methods being used to study active learning are improving. They are looking at outcomes beyond a single course at one institution. Here’s a summary of a study that explored some larger impacts.

Writing Good Assignment Descriptions

Concern about the quality of student writing is ongoing and not without justification. Faculty are addressing the problem with more writing assignments and a concerted faculty effort to improve student writing across the curriculum. Authors Allison Rank and Heather Pool, who during their graduate work directed a political science writing center, laud these faculty efforts but point out that faculty are not looking carefully at their writing in the assignment descriptions they give students. “We…

Moving from Courses to a Curriculum

What does it mean to offer students a curriculum as opposed to a series of related courses? How does a program, major, or minor encourage students to make meaningful connections between courses so that they develop strong professional identities?