Creative Course Design (Yes, You Can!)

A lot of teachers don’t think of themselves as being particularly creative. Creativity in education doesn’t mean coming up with a revolutionary new idea or complete reinvention of something. Creativity means doing something original or unique. A lot of educational creativity involves repackaging or “putting your own spin” on something that somebody else has already used successfully. We believe in adding your own stamp and style to already existing educational approaches—that’s being creative. Sometimes all that’s required to take a course or lesson from sleepy to exciting is a small, but personal, creative adaptation. It is almost always easier to modify than to create ex nihilo.

Encouraging Students to Use the Dictionary: The Results

Previously in The Teaching Professor (31.7), I wrote about my efforts to help students get what John C. Bean in Engaging Ideas (2001) calls the "Dictionary Habit." As I wrote, I had always assumed that my approach to teaching the "Dictionary Habit" was effective. However, a student email inquiring about the meaning of the word "dwellings" alerted me to the possibility that my approach was perhaps too teacher-centered. In other words, I began to wonder whether I had inspired this student to turn to me for a definition rather than a first-class dictionary like the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). In short, up to that point, I had been the one choosing what words we would look up as we read through texts, at least on most occasions. After the student's email, I decided to try something new, something more organic. As a self-described "dictionary enthusiast," what happened fascinated me.

Encouraging Classroom Participation Through In-Class Reviews

I teach introductory biology classes; the students in these classes are typically new to the discipline at the college level and often find the amount and level of material challenging to absorb and retain. However, many students are nervous about asking or answering the questions I ask. Typically it’s only a few of the well-prepared students who respond to the comprehension questions I pose. The less-prepared students keep their heads down. But students need to interact in class for me to determine the level at which they are understanding the material or struggling with it. Cold-calling feels threatening to many students and makes them even less likely to engage. I use an in-class review strategy to overcome this situation.

Institutional Climate for Teaching and Change Adoption

There’s no question that the climate for teaching at an institution has a direct impact on teaching at that institution, especially when it come to the value placed on teaching. It also influences the motivation to keep working on teaching. But what exactly makes up the teaching climate? Climate is a great metaphor. It means that the conditions that surround teaching and learning influence how teachers and students feel about it, just like the weather influences daily decisions about what to wear. But climate applied to teaching is a metaphor. What’s being described has nothing to do with the weather.

Modifying Strategies

Let’s start with an example. In a recent issue of College Teaching, Forrest Cooper describes how he modified the well-known and widely used “Think-Pair-Share” strategy. It continues to be an effective way to get students talking with each other about course content. But Cooper’s goal was to make the strategy even more learner-centered.

The Future of Teaching

Who knows what it might be? At this point no one can say for sure. However, it’s a pretty good bet it won’t be the same. Some scholars, Michael Wertheimer and William Woody among them, propose dramatic changes for the future professoriate. They base their predictions on the “radical technological and cultural transformation” currently underway. (p. 284) Their objective in proposing how a professor in the future might be teaching prompts this question: “How should today’s faculty in psychology and across the university, intentionally develop new skills and approaches to fit the coming academic world?” (p. 284) In other words, the future is better-prepared for now than later.

The Science of Learning Can Improve Teaching

In the 2017 Hans O. Mauksch Address presented at the American Sociology Association annual meeting, Melinda Messineo argues that we aren’t using as much of the science of learning as we could to help students learn. “In many ways, our efforts in the classroom are trial and error, and while much of what we do works, we are not aware of why it works, so the results are difficult to replicate. If we understand more about why the strategies we use work, we can potentially increase learning.” (p. 8)