In Bad Places, a.k.a Higher Ed Hell, almost every class is extremely boring. All the students have to do is pay attention to the constant drone of a stationary figure at the front of the room or fixed slides on a screen. Our brains are designed to pay attention to variety, movement and unexpected things. That's why we're so easily bored in classrooms. Great teachers in this space know how to make boring material captivating without deviating from the Bad Place premise of teaching by delivering expert content. Here's are a few of the tricks of the trade I "know by heart" for revising boring expert content:
- get the students to pry the information out of me by only responding to their questions and by my offering no unsolicited content
- give the students enough clues to figure out what I've leaving out, exaggerating or mistaking in my crappy presentation of the concept
- tell of a personal experience where I struggled to learn this content, applied it in a real situation or helped another get the idea to work for them personally
- draw parallels to a seemingly unrelated field that conforms to this pattern or has different words for the same concept
- play the fool that does not get it, confuses it or takes it too literally so the students can correct my "idiotic grasp" of the concept
- give the students opportunities to assign homework to me where I apply the concept to their personal "case studies" in my next presentation
- explain the concept with several visual metaphors which make it easier to grasp, relate to or tie into their current understanding
In Better Places, it's understood that learning results from action, practice and multi-sensory engagement. Great teachers provide lots of projects and activities that familiarize the students with using the concept to define problems, make decisions, prioritize efforts and assess results. What they're learning seems less like concepts and more like checklists, procedures or comprehensive frameworks. With so much getting done, the students can learn from each others' exemplary conduct, walking the talk and taking the lead. They think of what they learned in terms of what they can now accomplish and deliver.
In Good Places, learning is imagined to occur within each student idiosyncratically. What's new on the outside is getting construed to be relevant to what's already on the inside. What gets delivered leads to much more that gets discovered by each student with her/his own varied experiences, outlooks and agendas. School work is assigned that requires interpreting the content, comparing viewpoints, selecting among conflicting claims and questioning partial explanations. Students are encouraged to own their biased "perceptions and attributions" which result from their own experiences -- rather than make a pretense of objectivity. This provides very helpful preparation for teamwork and collaborative projects where diversity can either enhance or destroy the functioning of the group.
In Great Places, learning occurs interacting with peers who function as the great teachers. Collegiality proves to be far more productive than approaches that rely on distant experts. College professors typically have forgotten what it's like to be unfamiliar with or confused by the content they've thoroughly understood for decades. Peers know just enough more about some facet to bring clarity to confusion or pose a perfect question that leads to new insights. If these peers have been exposed to great teachers in the other spaces, they will also structure activities and personal reflections in addition to helping others comprehend the content abstractly. This provides superb preparation for each peer to function as a good leader, mentor, parent and colleague.