I’ve had 2 classes with my First Year Seminar students so far and I’ve already learned a huge lesson about using open pedagogy. I have planned several exercises for the students to work on our syllabus design. As I am trying to incorporate what we’ve come up with so far into the syllabus, it occurs to me that I have gone about the work of building the syllabus with them in a way that is not likely to get the best results.
For example, I asked the students to answer a set of questions as homework. One of the questions was “What kinds of activities, assignments, and/or assessments have you enjoyed and/or been successful at in the past? What about these activities, assignments, or assessments did you find useful and helpful?” When we talked about this question together in class, students almost unanimously said something about hands-on, project-based group work. That’s a good sign because that’s the kind of work the First Year Seminar Fellows have envisioned first year students will do in the class. I then asked them for ideas about the kinds of projects they might work on. They had some fun ideas! But the thing that was missing in all of these project ideas was “why.” Why would we do that project? What are we trying to get at? What are we trying to change?
That lack of focus on the “why” is completely my fault. We haven’t yet spent enough time talking about goals. We have talked about the goals of the class but I haven’t yet helped students make the connection between their activities in the class and the goals of the class. And we haven’t begun to talk about what the goals of a particular activity might be, about what we might be trying to learn or change by engaging in that activity. Luckily, I have time to correct this and the work we’ve done so far will support the future work. But it’s a great reminder that we have to have a “relentless focus” on our goals so that our activities are aligned with what we are trying to achieve. This is one of the lessons of The Undergraduate Experience.
As an institution, I think we are sometimes making this same mistake. We don’t always talk (or maybe even think) about how our activities align with our goals. The Transition Leadership Team will be leading a discussion of The Undergraduate Experience during January Jamboree. The University has committed to making sure that everyone who is interested in reading the book can get a copy of it. There are many lessons in the book but to me, the “alignment matters” chapter is the most important. It’s pretty easy to try new things but if those things are not aligned with our goals, we’re wasting our scarce resources. I think our integrated cluster initiative has the best chance of success if we all commit to a “relentless focus” on our goals.