What do students know?

I read this by Graham Gibbs in the Times Higher Education over the weekend:

Studies have identified changes over time in what teachers pay attention to, and there is broad agreement about the stages involved.

Postgraduate teaching assistants may be concerned about whether students like them or are impressed by them, and whether they can get away with passing themselves off as an academic in their discipline. It is all about identity and self-confidence rather than about effectiveness.

Teachers then focus their attention on the subject matter itself: “Do I know my stuff?” While some never move beyond this focus on content, most subsequently shift their focus to methods: “How should I go about this?” There is evidence that training programmes improve student ratings of teaching practices.

Eventually, and with luck, teachers evolve towards a focus of attention on effectiveness: “What have students learned?” and “What is it that I have done that has had most impact on what students have learned?”

That questions of “what have students learned?” is one that has interested me. One of the resources that got me interested in it is the video “A Private Universe“. I like the contrast (or lack of it) in understanding of what causes the seasons between the the MIT graduate who studied planetary motion and the 9th grade student. Clearly, apart from being too late to be of any use, exams don’t always answer that question. What I find does help is to stop talking at the students, to stop presenting information and to start listening. I ask my students to keep a learning log describing what they do an don’t understand, I also use socrative to ask questions in class. I don’t need socrative because my classes are so large that I can’t ask student individually but because the students seem more willing to answer.

hmm, Gibbs’s last question is a difficult one to answer

2 thoughts on “What do students know?

  1. [This isn’t new for you, but I think it’s worth saying ;-)]
    I think having clear learning objectives and the general process of aligning objectives, activities, and assessment offer a really helpful starting point in that final transition.
    For some lecturers the process of developing an online course can be a pain but it’s often one of the few times (post HEA PG cert) where a lecturer might encounter delineating what you’re trying to achieve, how you’re achieving it, and how you’re going to measure it/ know it’s happened. I think this kind of clarity about methods prompts reflecting on how that process has worked (or not) which may help move to thinking about student learning.

    How have you found the learning logs working? When I was doing eportfolio stuff the challenge was often around how do we help students to reflect without there being a formulaic or right answer.

    1. Thanks John, yes that is worth saying.

      I have certainly found that the learning logs are worth doing in terms of helping me spot where the students are picking up on some of the wrong things. It is difficult to get the students to do them (so I make it compulsory and assessed); it is difficult to get them to do more than post summaries of what I’ve said, so this year I am stressing how it fits in with the rest of the course–it helps that this is a course on online learning so the message is the medium 😉

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