Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thinking and doing

I don't write a whole lot about teaching in this blog. But after reading the thoughtful and detailed opening posts on a new blog by business professor Joe Hoyle of the University of Richmond, I'm beginning to think I should.

Joe is blogging his way through a semester of Introduction to Financial Accounting. His methods are not restricted to the teaching of finance or business topics, though; they will challenge instructors in the liberal arts, education, science ... anywhere professors have the job of getting students to think about (and even perhaps care about) their topic.

For a dedicated student of the humanities like myself, the title of a course like Hoyle's sounds like torture by deadly boredom. Yet he proceeds under the belief that the information he's tasked with providing is not only interesting, but vital to his students. If they can master it, they will be in a position to improve their lives. He labors under a double burden: teaching his students both the course content and the reason it should matter to them. As do we all -- but often we are happy to blame the students for not caring about our topics, as if the only reason students sign up for our courses is because they are sincerely eager to drink deeply from our well of knowledge.

I'm inspired by Joe not only to keep trying to improve my teaching, but to share what I'm doing whenever I can. Joe asks us to commit to making our teaching 5% better every year. That may not sound like much, but under the pressure of a typical semester, it's often much easier to just repeat one's self. Building new structures and trying new things takes time and energy that many of us aren't willing to try to find. It's a good time to hear this message, here at the beginning of a semester, when there is still time to share with our students our efforts to make this shared endeavor just a little bit more effective.

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