THINKING ABOUT TEACHING -- HOW DO YOU GET THEM EXCITED????


As I try to mention every now and then, if you want me to send you an announcement whenever I post a new blog entry (about 20 times per year), send me an email at Jhoyle@richmond.edu.
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My good friend Bob Jensen passed along the following URL a week or so ago:


The related story talks with one of the authors of the book Taking College Teaching Seriously:   Pedagogy Matters!    The story begins with an interesting assertion:   “The call to increase the number of U.S. adults with college degrees and improve college completion rates across the country has only grown louder in recent years.  But relatively little has been discussed about the actual teaching that occurs inside the thousands of lecture halls, labs and classrooms on college campuses.”  

Do you agree or disagree with that statement?   I think that very assertion is worth a discussion.   My tendency is to mostly agree with the statement based on what I have seen as I go out and about.   But there are some wonderful exceptions.   For that reason, I found the comments at the end of this story almost as interesting as the story itself.   In colleges, do we discuss teaching a little, a lot, none, or what?   What do you think?

Thanks to Bob for sending that along.
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As I have mentioned previously, I led a couple of teaching programs here at the University of Richmond recently.   In the most recent, I began with one of my all-time favorite quotes about teaching (a quote that I have mentioned in this blog a number of times over the years):  

“Great teaching is not about the number of years you do it.   Great teaching is about the amount of time you spend thinking about it.”

Whenever I bring up this sentiment, I get very little resistance.   It has a common sense appeal that people like.   But, never once, over all these years that I have been doing this, has anyone ever raised his or her hand and asked the perfectly obvious question:   “So, what do you think about when you are thinking about teaching?”   If “thinking about it” is so darn important, shouldn’t someone address the issue of what thoughts we should be pondering?   Do we get hung up admiring quotations or do we actually consider their implications?

I raised that very question in my presentation.   And, then I told a story about one of the things I think about as I consider how I want to teach my classes.    When my older son was a senior in high school, he did extremely well in his art classes and decided that he might want to attend the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).   Over my winter break that year, we scheduled a trip to Providence, Rhode Island, to tour the campus.   As luck would have it, the area was recovering from a huge snow and ice storm.   On Friday, January 7, 1994, we were spending our last day on the campus before heading home the next morning.   As we walked across campus in the snow and ice, we saw announcements that the students were putting on a presentation of videos that had been made in some of their classes.   It sounded fascinating so we came back to campus that evening for the show.  Because of the bad weather, we arrived early and wandered around in one of the classroom buildings to kill time.   In a computer lab on the basement level, we found a young student working at a computer monitor.   We asked her what she was working on and she was ever so enthusiastic to show us.   Okay, this is nearly 22 years ago when computer programming was primitive.   She had been working on designing a stick figure on her monitor that could toss a ball and then catch it.   And, sure enough, as we watched, the stick figure did exactly that.   The student was so thrilled.   She told us all about how hard she had worked that entire day and how exciting the whole process had been.   Her enthusiasm for the exercise was contagious.

As my son and I walked from the room, I turned to him and asked the question:   “I wonder how many of my accounting students work this hard on their Friday evenings?”

To which my son replied, “Better still.   How many of your students get that excited about learning accounting?”  

We both laughed but I have thought about that conversation for over two decades now.   How can I get my students so interested in financial accounting that they will gladly work on Friday evenings and be ecstatic when they finally manage to solve the assigned problem?

It is very easy for me to rationalize and say “well, she was doing computer programming and I’m teaching accounting” but is coming to understand the essence of financial reporting truly more boring than getting a stick figure to throw a ball?   Or, do I just assume that my students will think it is boring and, therefore, I accept that as inevitable?

Since January 7, 1994, I have spent a lot of time thinking of ways to make my coverage interesting/engaging/intriguing.   As far as I’m concerned, it should be a pleasure to learn how the world of accounting works and not drudgery.

What have I learned from all this thinking?   There are lots and lots of things I could bring up but if I had to list just one thing, it would be this:   Excitement in education is all about the questions.   The questions you ask your students (in class and on tests) have to be interesting.  They have to be challenging.   They have to be worth the effort.   They have to be puzzling.    Focus on the questions.

If all you do is provide some type of rule or fact or process and then ask the students to memorize it, no student is ever going to be excited about your class.   Think about the questions.   What questions can you throw at them that will make students stop and wonder?   What questions can you ask that will puzzle them enough so that they will truly want to work out the answer for themselves.   


That has been on my mind now for an awfully long period of time.





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