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“What exactly does the metaphor mean? We ‘cover’ content – like leaves on the forest floor? Like a bedspread covering the bed? Is that the relationship that ought to exist when between the teacher and content when the goal is learning?”
Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. pg 46 (2002)

Many college faculty, new and old, have shared that while a proven technique or tool sounds neat, they do not have time to utilize it, as they are too hard pressed to simply “Cover the content.”

As faculty, we have all been there… With a new class prep or term, we take out the course syllabus, look through the objectives and the textbook.  Then, we get that throbbing in the temples… how on earth we will “cover” that MUCH material in those FEW class gatherings?

On top of this eternal fundamental challenge, society has been exerting increasing pressures on higher ed classrooms, particularly in the community college world.

Simply teaching the technical content is not enough, as faculty now are expected to:

  • Challenge students to a high level of academic rigor & integrity
  • Somehow address a wide range of baseline remedial gaps in skills (reading/ writing/ study skills etc.)
  • Maximize retention by getting students engaged
  • Support students with a wide range of cultural backgrounds/ emotional maturity/ economic backgrounds/ learning disabilities etc.
  • Intentionally develop students'”Soft skills” (critical thinking, information literacy, professionalism, teamwork, ethics etc. ) that employers are demanding graduates have, in addition to technical knowledge.

…all in ADDITION to the technical content itself!

Tackling this steep challenge, armed ONLY with one tool … the lecture, the task is almost impossible (except possibly for the rare unicorns of the “2%-ers” who can make a grocery list compelling listening).

That the lecture continues to be the default (and sometimes only) teaching mode is due to  faculty having little to no educational training. Traditional credentialing still emphasizes content area or being a working professional in our fields.

Likewise, popular culture and standardized testing in K-12 tend to set the expectation to new/ 1st generation college students that the teacher’s job is to stand at the front and hold forth and lecture. Their role as students is to fill their assembly line rows of seats, and play the role of rapt, eyes front, diligent note taking learners.

So it can be comfortable, safe an easy to stay in the safe harbor of lecturing all class every class. Certainly, if we  lower our sights to simply a race against a mountain of Powerpoint slides being dramatically read and unveiled to students, we may “win” the content race… albeit with cutting or tweaking slides to make it all fit neatly for the final slide deck of the final chapter by Finals week.

But with  reflection, at the end of the race, we will likely find we have “lost” engagement or motivation of all but the most elite slice of the students. On top of NOT making time to address any of the pressing 21st century skills education needs that employers are demanding. Even cursory Googling will yield a wealth of results showing that lecture is a blunt instrument that has limited effectiveness at best for even for the entry level of Bloom’s taxonomy of recall and remembering.

So ALL lecture is bad and should be forever banished?!
No. Targeted, micro lectures – whether recorded or in person – can be very useful tools if made only a piece of an a fully integrated and varied instruction puzzle.

Ok, but if we don’t lecture at students with a PowerPoint, what DO you do with these people during the suddenly scary long class sessions? How WILL they learn this stuff?

There are many proven and ready-made tools to pull off the shelf so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel…

  1. Student Groups
    You as the Professor are a limited resource with limited verbal and time “bandwidth”. Instructor assigned, diverse student groups allow for multiplying the voices and approaches to explaining & using the material as well as a peer support group to address varied needs of students and add an element to promote retention.

Small Steps:
A) Assign students out of class homework of a reading and come to class with:
5 most important points of a reading, and
5 biggest confusions or haziest points.
B) Divide class into equal groups and have them share their lists.
C) Then have the groups compile a synthesized master list – Top 3 confusions and important points
D) Have groups go into the book and try to find answers for confusions as well as support for each important point.
E) AT the end of the time, have group reps share their lists on the board.
F) Probe and clarify the common themes and confusions as needed via discussion and TARGETED micro lecturing

Going Further: 
Use the off-the shelf course model of Team-Based Learning to center the course around stable group application experiences.

2. Rich Active Learning Activities
Having opportunities for students to directly DO or apply the material or OBSERVE a professional in the field using the material is one of the best ways to create engaging and motivating class sessions that promote student success and retention.

Small Steps:
Identify 1 class session that might easily lend itself to some direct DOING or using and applying the course material instead of a lecture.
Record a brief 10 minutes or less condensed mini lecture in Zoom and post in Canvas
-Assign the mini lecture and baseline reading be done before the live class.
-Facilitate the direct doing or observing experience with clear steps and goals for each phase.
-Have students write a brief reflection and then in small groups or as a class, process reflections of the experience.

Going Further:
Make a series of extended rich active learning experiences that are the primary vehicles for learning and application of material throughout the course.
These can be either embedded service learning opportunities or an extended field project or problem based learning.

3. Leverage Canvas to Color Outside the Lines
The traditional limitations of a live on the ground course is that when the class session is up, learning and interaction stops. So regardless of if you have JUST gotten a rich discussion rolling, then it stops. But with Canvas, you can extend and transform the entire learning sequence.

Small Steps:
Select 1 class discussion prompt and setup a canvas discussion for it.
Then assign students before class to post in the discussion,
then use the live class time to focus on emerged threads or points.
Or go the other way of start a discussion in class then assign students to extend and followup the discussion to the next level in Canvas before the next class.

Going Further:
Use Zoom and Canvas to flip the classroom.

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