The Teaching Professor
Current Issue: May 1, 2013
I give my second-year undergraduate students the opportunity to forecast their final course grades while the course is still under way. The goal of this predictive or prognostic feedback is to help the students develop a more realistic assessment of their progress in the course and consequently make better decisions about how much time and effort they need to devote to the course.
Several studies have documented that students, particularly beginning ones, tend to overestimate how well they’re doing in a course. I didn’t used to think this was a problem. I thought students who overestimated how well they were doing were talking about the grade they hoped they’d get, not the one they expected to receive. But my thinking has changed. I now believe students are also telling themselves that the grade they want is the one they’re going to get, and if they are, they’re providing themselves reasons not to spend more time and effort on the course. And because so many students aren’t all that motivated to study anyway, a kind of vicious cycle starts in which students think it’s okay not to study because they’re doing fine in the course.
I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.
The question in the title can be considered in light of an interesting case study reported by a sociologist who teaches at a comprehensive university in Wisconsin. As a new faculty member without much teaching experience, he reports, “I was disappointed with the level of engagement in previous semester-long student research projects. ... A lack of excitement and engagement seemed to correlate with students’ difficulty synthesizing their learning into a coherent whole and articulating sociological arguments in final papers about their cases.” (p. 208) Many of us can relate. Frequently students don’t pull it all together on a comprehensive exam or final paper assignment. We are disappointed in what it appears they have not learned.
People text almost everywhere nowadays, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that students are doing it in class. In this study of almost 300 marketing majors at two different universities, 98 percent reported that they texted during class. They reported receiving just about as many texts as they sent. Perhaps most troubling in these findings were students’ attitudes about texting.
Being a college professor sometimes feels lonely. Yes, we have colleagues in our departments and elsewhere on campus, students in our classrooms, and administrators who support us, but we also spend a lot of time working by ourselves. As new faculty members, we decided that “the power of we” was important for enhancing pedagogical practice, and we thought that maybe the cycle of loneliness could be broken by a pedagogy group. What follows describes how we formed the group, what we have done together, and, most important, what we’ve gained from the experience.
Often the articles highlighted in The Teaching Professor are examples of pedagogical scholarship that could beneficially be done in many fields. That is the case with this piece on developing writing assignments, but it also contains content useful to any faculty member who uses writing assignments as a major method of assessing student learning in a course.
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