As academics, we tend to model our teaching style on the way we were taught. In some courses this works well, but in other courses it may not. Learning how to teach the students we have and not the students we want can be an eye opener.

So, were you taught in a large lecture hall with a very smart faculty member lecturing? And did you then go and take a test to summarize what you learned in a lecture? For some courses, this works. Facts are facts and the muscle names in the human body are not going change, nor will the sum of 2 + 2. But in other courses, such as Business Ethics, content changes from day to day. There are always ways to bring students into a very engaging discussion.

Structuring your style for the course you teach

Recently, I was working with a faculty member who was teaching an Ethics course. He wanted to just use the textbook and give students a weekly quiz online. After a lengthy discussion, I suggested that he conduct three different discussions in his face-to-face course: a local ethics issue on Mondays, a national ethics issue on Wednesdays, and an international ethics issue on Fridays. I also recommended switching up the summative assessments by analyzing a current case study (one from the last three years) every other week, based on one of the ethical issues discussed in class. This change is taking some time and work by the faculty member, but daily news feeds have helped with the face-to-face discussions. This model can be used in an online course as well. It is a different form of assessment and the discussions will show if a student understands the concepts of the course.

So far, the results have been amazing! Students are extremely engaged in the discussions and he learned a lot about his student’s life experiences as well as the hunger they have for discussion ethics.

Related: How creative thinking transformed my classroom

Do you teach the way you were taught?

Changing how we assess today’s learners

How do you assess a course at the end of the term? How about assigning a project instead of a test that’s based on rote learning using the test bank from a publisher? Project-based learning is taking an area of interest and making some type of deliverable that can be used.

A few years ago, I was teaching an Introduction to Computer course at a local community college. My students were required to research a subject of their choice and then write a report using Microsoft Word. I wanted to add project-based learning to make the course more dynamic, so I asked them to create a web page based on their research. Some non-profit organizations actually used the student’s web pages after the course. The students found the projects to be fun and engaging, and they were proud of their work.

Related: See how other colleges support active learning

As we look forward to the end of the semester and think about how we teach, it is important to continuously assess our style and come up with ways to improve our teaching for better student engagement and student success. So, do you teach the way you were taught? If the answer is yes, maybe it’s time to rethink that.

About the Author:

Rebecca Graetz, Ed.D., is an instructional program manager at the University of Wisconsin Superior. She spends her days consulting with faculty on quality and innovative online course design, focusing on student engagement and student success. She is also is an ally for the TGNC community and an instructor for the MOOC What does it meant to be transgender or gender non-conforming? in partnership with the University of Minnesota and Coursera.


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