secrets for a successful classroom
the sage on the stage to the guide on the side
educational philosophy survived the decades. Even in the middle
of this century, when the GI Bill of Rights made higher education
affordable for the masses, it was likely that a professor in
a four-year college would be a classically trained male in charge
of downloading information into privileged young brains.
At the end of this
millennium, though, Greek and Latin are considered slightly
esoteric studies, applied sciences are more popular than pure
mathematics and pedagogy has morphed from teacher centered to
student centered. By the year 2020, Andersen Consulting predicts,
30million Americans will participate in some form of higher
education -- almost a quantum leap in numbers from those original
12 Harvard students.
are no longer absorbers, but active learners and educational
consumers. Teachers have become coaches, helping students find
ways to learn what they need to know, using all the tools at
their disposal, along with tricks they invent themselves.
According to experts
of the Association of American Colleges and Universities: "The
instructor's role as motivator remains fundamental, but now
as a mentor in acquiring strategies for learning. As the familiar
formulation puts it, the professor is no longer primarily 'the
sage on the stage,' but assumes a new and crucial role 'as the
guide on the side.'"
Basile, NTID professor of business (top),teaches a class how
to design a corporate newsletter.
It might seem obvious,
but everyone learns in a different way, says Mary Lou Basile,
professor of business in the National Technical Institute for
the Deaf (NTID).
teach the way their teachers did, Basile says, which has helped
perpetuate the old master/lecture model. "That style goes back
to the Middle Ages," she says. "It doesn't always work today."
do in the classroom has to support the goal of students learning
the material," she says. "You can't just give the students busywork.
You need to provide, in a 10-week session, opportunities for
all of them to learn in the ways they like best."
According to Basile,
some general learning styles include: competitive -- needs to
be challenged to learn; collaborative -- prefers working with
others; independent -- takes pleasure in learning the material;
and dependent -- needs some structure to learn.
Basile tries to
offer something for each style in her curriculum, she says.
"I have games for the competitive, group projects for the collaborative,
some lecture for the independent learners and plenty of structure
for the students who are dependent learners," she says.
Technology has altered
the face of the college classroom in the 20 years since Margaret
Reek graduated from RIT (she earned her BS in computer science
in 1977, her MS in 1981). A computer science professor, she
came to RIT after a "real-world" career at Digital Equipment
Corporation in Rochester.
has changed so much since I graduated in 1977," Reek says. "Back
then, we had one chance a day to get on the computer, and we
had to make it work. Now all my freshmen have computers in their
rooms, and they're not afraid of them. They have time to play
around and get creative with their work."
Reek uses e-mail
to "talk" with students ("E-mail makes me more accessible,"
she says) and plans student exercises that use World Wide Web
technology. "I still need feedback from the students, though,"
she says. "I look at e-mail and the Web as ways to augment the
educational experience, not necessarily to be its sum total."
Students want to
be recognized in the classroom, Reek says. With a teaching load
that can often hit 130 students a quarter, though, it takes
work to remember who is who among the sea of baseball caps and
backpacks. Reek has a trick: "I take their picture on the first
day of class and get a little bit of bio information, and put
it all on a class Web page. I know all their names," she says
with a laugh. "I need to see a name with a face."
Keith Jenkins uses
e-mail to stay in touch with his students, but he favors "proximal
face-to-face contact." Jenkins, assistant provost for diversity
and assistant professor of professional and technical communication,
intended a career as an actor before being bitten by the teaching
bug at Florida State University. He teaches effective speaking
and intercultural communications courses at RIT. In the classroom,
Jenkins uses the Name Game to remember who is who. "You choose
an adjective that begins with the first letter of the person's
first name," he says. "I want each student to be able to call
each other by name."
Jenkins often collaborates
to teach courses: for example, he "team teaches" an effective
speaking course with David Neumann, also a professor of language,
literature and communication. "The students love the differences
in our teaching approaches," he says. "Dave and I can play off
each others' strengths, which adds energy to the material."
Jenkins has what
he calls "an arsenal" of teaching techniques. Along with outlining
his lecture on a transparency or in Powerpoint for students
to look at, he might try talking about current events and how
they apply to the subject at hand. "I try to transfer their
learning to a new context," he says. For example, in a study
of intercultural relations, he might ask students to visit Susan
B. Anthony's house or Frederick Douglass's grave site, or take
a trip to the Strong Museum, to get some perspective on cultural
(second from left) gets his hands dirty alongside his students
as they install a ground-water monitoring well.
one to put boundaries on the classroom, Joshua Goldowitz also
sends his students outside the classroom. The assistant professor
in the department of environmental management, also president
of Hydro-Logic Corporation, has his students install and use
ground water monitoring wells on the RIT campus. "The students
learn about testing by doing it," he says. "Students love to
talk about real-world examples, take actual difficult problems
and figure out how to solve them."
while in the classroom, Goldowitz aims for a hands-on approach.
To demonstrate the flow of rainwater run-off in a hydrology
class, for example, he covered the entire class with a drop
cloth, then showered the students with two high-volume water
guns. "No one forgot that lesson," an observer remembered.
it's water guns, name games, technology or whatever, teaching
students at this time in history means making change. ". . .
The world of higher education," say the experts of the Association
of American Colleges and Universities, "has only recently reached
a broadly shared understanding that it is in a transformational
teachers move from the master/lecture model to whatever new
pedagogy evolves, they need to remember what Mary Lou Basile
considers her primary motivator: "My main goal is to make students
more reliant on themselves," she says. "They need to learn that
they are the makers of their own destinies."