Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tilting at Windmills, Vol. 1, No. 16

     Recently at Teaching US History Ben Wright discussed the lack of education research exhibited by college professors. I agree with his line of thinking regarding this. Unlike Ben, I arrived at my ideas in history education after taking education courses following the earning of my MA in History. He learned his education training as an undergraduate while I did mine in a doctoral level program. Either way, the ideas are still the same. How does a professor teach students when the professor often has no idea how to teach beyond his or her own experiences as a student?

     What often occurs is that these new professors fall back on the traditional lecture supported by PowerPoints. Students are expected to sit quietly in class listening attentively to what the instructor says. Let's look at this in reality. First of all, today's students have the attention span of a gnat. I call them the MTV generation. Everything is down in five minute segments of time in their world like a video. I'm probably dating myself because MTV doesn't even show videos any more, but the concept remains the same. Have you ever noticed how TV shows and even books are more and more scene driven before the commercial or chapter breaks? The people we are teaching are conditioned to pay attention like that. If you want to stand there for 30 minutes lecturing, you've exceeded their attention spans and lost the class 20 minutes ago.
     Lecture does not cause students to learn. Why say what the book says? Is that not redundant? If all you are doing in your lecture is restating the book, what is the point? Furthermore, if your assessment of student learning goes no farther than what is in the book as many of the pre-made assessment tools that come with the textbooks cover, why should they pay attention to what you say? They just need to read the book! Is that learning or is that memorization? What did they learn? Are they really learning or just marking time in your class checking off another three credits on their way to a degree?

     In the Tilting at Windmills section of this blog I have covered teaching in some form or another. As readers know, I hate lecture. I think it is dead. If you do nothing but lecture and use per-generated tests in your classes you are wasting your time and your students. You are not teaching them. They are not learning anything especially the critical thinking skills that they are supposed to be learning as the main point of a four year degree. In short, you suck at teaching today's students. I would suggest you resign your position, but the sad truth is you would almost certainly be replaced by someone else who has no clue how to teach history.

     There is however an alternative to continuing wasting everyone's time. That is of course learning how to teach. I am going to explore the art of teaching history over the next several weeks in this section. I have my own experiences teaching history, other instructor's experience, educational courses on education itself, and some interesting courses and sessions conducted by long time history teachers to work with. Do not expect a formal course on how to teach history. What I am going to do is cover the bits and pieces of teaching history in a pretty disjointed manner. From there I will be able to assemble those parts into a definitive work that could be used to construct a course or even a written work on teaching history.

    I will label the posts "The Art of Teaching History" so that readers know when a post is covering this area or not. I will probably have some other posts mixed in as things pop up like they always do. If readers have suggestions, advice, or want me to cover something specific, please drop a comment in and we will go from there.

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