Monthly Archives: April 2012

What the Best College Teachers Do — But How?

I have been reading Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do as a part of a reading/discussion group sponsored by our Center for Teaching and Learning. I was glad to see some of my already existing teaching practices validated by the examples in the book, and I’ve been motivated to try techniques discussed such as simulations and real world application assignments. So a year marked by a radical shift in my teaching philosophy and practices has been punctuated by the arguments in this book.

That’s why I think the recent spate of negative Twitter comments by my students has personally hurt me. I’ve been working really hard on my teaching, on helping students achieve writing goals and become lifelong learners.  The composition classes use every mode of communication, every human sense. We talk, we listen, we do. I’ve revamped my lit survey courses so that we make connections between the worlds we read and the worlds we live in through projects, exercises, and conversations. I took midterms and finals out of my upper-level classes and added conference presentations and cultural studies projects.

And it’s hard. It’s so much easier to teach from the same old notes, to lecture rather than devise multiple classroom activities, to grade a test rather than to assess a project. I’m feeling emotionally and intellectually thin (although, unfortunately, that thinness hasn’t manifested physically).

So when in the space of a week, four students from three different classes used our class Twitter feed as a space to complain that comp and British lit are pointless, I just feel defeated. Done. Over. When I’ve worked so hard on these classes, on making them relevant and alive, it just hits me in the gut to hear students say they don’t get it. And they aren’t in my office saying they don’t get it and need help; they are passively-aggressively complaining on Twitter.

In my previous post, I outlined the research/teaching questions that have come from this experience. Today we discussed the last chapter of the Bain book, and I felt myself get angrier and angrier. He says that the best teachers de-emphasize grades and that students go along with that. But how do they get the students to buy into the system? I think one reason these students see the classes as “pointless” is their perception of just that — because the point of the class is application, not a grade, they see it as literally lacking in points for them. Of course they are assessed and they do receive grades, but not in the input-output way of lecture/study guide/test.

How do we help students see their college classes as training in lifelong learning? How do we help them see past the GPA to the bigger goals of critical thinking and communication skills? How do we change university systems so that grades are not the ultimate factor in student success?


Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


Of Tweets and Teaching

I tweet with my students, forming an imagined community beyond our classroom.  I tweet with teachers I know and teachers I met via Twitter, forming an imagined community beyond our universities and schools. I talk with my colleagues in the halls, after meetings, at lunch, over coffee.  And over the past couple of days, those communities, “real” and imagined, collided.

It started on Wednesday when a comp student tweeted during class that it was a waste of time.

Not what any of us want to read. What made it rather fascinating was that the student made this remark on our class Twitter stream, knowing I would read it.

Or did she?

The next day, I got a similar tweet from a different student in a different class.

She laughed it off — although two lols seemeth to protest too much — but I saw this tweet while I was in the Center for Teaching and Learning on campus for a 20-Minute Mentor session.  I stayed after the session to show my wonderful friends/colleagues, Janet Land and Emily Robertson.  We talked. They suggested. They listened. They showed me tech tricks and shared strategies for coping. At the end of our talk, I had the foundation for a workshop to lead through CETL and a renewed confidence that what I’m doing is working, in spite of a couple of tweets.

So my questions — How does social media, like Twitter, function in the classroom to create an imagined community? How do professors foster that community? Or do we allow it to grow organically from student input and effort? What happens when students forget audience and say something offensive to the professor or to classmates? How do we set up “rules’ while allowing Twitter to be a space for play and creativity? How do we created/foster backchannels that work?

So thank you students for giving me a research topic and a question to inform my teaching.


Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Uncategorized