You can always listen

I have really struggled with what to write this week. Coming up with the thing to say after the election is something a lot of us are struggling with. Then I realized I was asking the wrong question. As faculty we often default to the perspective that we have wisdom the world needs. What I, and I think all of us should be asking is, what do other people have to say?

Listen to your students who have been harassed on and off campus with an open mind. Listen to your students in class as they complain that everyone is talking about the election, when they want to learn about what they came here to study. Listen to your students who were thrilled at the election results, but are afraid about voicing their enthusiasm on campus. These may be office hour conversations, they may occupy class time, they may be email exchanges or comments as you walk across campus. The form of the conversation is not particularly important and do not worry about how you will respond or not having the right answer, just start with listening. You will find yourself listening to things you disagree with and do not understand. You will find yourself surprised at the things your students and colleagues think and experience. You may find your own views on expression changing, but it has to start with listening, even if it takes us outside our comfort zones. Sometimes listening is what helps us make a change, sometimes listening is all that is required. My background is in communication and one fascinating truth from that field of study is that we hear all the time, but listening is an active choice requiring work. If you want to take this a step further toward discussion you should read about what Villanova is doing after the election.

No one ever looks back on a decision and says to themselves “I wish I would have understood people less before proceeding.” So ask students how they are doing, let them know your office hours are open to them, and listen.

Dr. Sara Cooper has provided additional Book in Common Material. Check out this section of the CELT page for regular synopsis updates, discussion questions, and other resources.

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Put yourself in their shoes

Earlier this semester I was in a webinar about a project I was already pretty familiar with. I had participated in a similar program a few years ago and had done some reading in advance. I was excited to learn more about the program and sat down with the best of intentions.

Ten minutes in, I was completely lost. There were acronyms, complex questions, nuances, and personal histories I was completely unfamiliar with. I was so lost, I got bored. I made sure my webcam was not on and pointed my browser to to familiarize myself with the 49ers 49ers depth chart. 35 minutes later the webinar had ended and I had gained almost nothing. I started to do some catch-up reading to see if I could be less lost the next time there was a webinar, and then something occurred to me, I was a novice learner again.

This is the experience many students have in our classes. They are well intentioned, ambitious, interested in the subject matter, and overwhelmed by what we are talking about. The content seems obvious to us, key concepts jump off the page and are elaborated with ease for us, but not for them.

This process does not have to remain a mystery. There are several things you can do in and out of class to transition your class from novice learner status.

  1. Provide them with a preview of one or two main concepts from a class period, then reference them, then repeat them at the end. The goal is not memorization, it is providing them with a framework for understanding.
  2. Check in with them during class. Break up an activity or a lecture to re-center a conversation on a framework you find useful.
  3. Engage in perspective taking. Imagine (with help from them) encountering the material for the first time, what would you think?

A little outside reading never hurt. Check out “The Journey to High Level Performance: Using Knowledge on the Novice-Expert Trajectory to Enhance Higher Education Teaching” by Moore, O’Neil, & Barrett from The Changing Roles and Identities of Teachers and Learners in Higher Education as a good topic primer.

Just remember, every change comes with a cost. With increased attention on the course material, how will your students keep up on the 49ers?