I strive to make my courses challenging but fun. My course on game theory is a case in point. By having an experiential learning component, students get hands-on practice with the concepts discussed in class. Students get to play games against their peers and we later debrief, discussing the outcome of the games, what actions everyone chose, and what the optimal actions would have been.
I strongly believe that teaching is a multi-layered process. In the university classroom in particular, we can make opportunities to learn from one another, both students and the professor. I utilize a variety of teaching strategies that foster deep learning and analytical skills that will be useful to students when they graduate, but also that acknowledge that students have both strengths and weaknesses in their learning and output styles.
Kenneth Burke’s “unending conversation” metaphor has always been a helpful pedagogical thought exercise for me. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke asks his readers to imagine arriving late to a parlor. Immediately the reader must recognize that the ongoing conversations are also preceding conversations. With this realization, the misapprehension of discourse as discrete and linear is disrupted.
I try to employ teaching strategies that help students play to their strengths. For example, some students love writing papers, others hate writing papers. So while students have to write in a history class (it’s a written discipline!), I try to have various types of assignments so that students can connect with content in different ways that energize their curiosity and learning.
I have found that the best strategy for engaging millennial students is just knowing the material and presenting it in an accessible but sophisticated manner. In assignments I encourage students to apply the theoretical tools they learn to fields that interest them, whether it be literature, advertising, digital design, politics, or propaganda.
An old aphorism in sales is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” A veggie friendly version might be to “sell the crunch, not the lunch.” The point is that mere information is relatively inert when it comes to motivating people. Engaging people requires vivid and visceral connections to product perks. I use this premise in my Personality Psychology course.
After teaching Introduction to the Middle East (PSCI 257 and HIST 230) for more than 10 years, with approximately 90 students every year, I felt students still wanted an experiential course to truly understand the challenges of the Middle East. So this past summer, I decided to take approximately 20 students to attend the Model Arab League in Washington DC. This was a great opportunity to see experiential learning at its finest.
I’m not focused on content, per se. I am less interested in imparting specific content, but rather in using content as a way to practice and build abstract thinking, research, and communication skills. And of course, this works best when you have engaging content.
Among other things, I try to impress upon my students that knowledge is often best generated through collaborative and experiential endeavours. Whether we are in the classroom, lab, or field, I want my students to know that we are exploring ideas together, and that this very process contributes to the intellectual growth of both student and professor alike.