Glass Half Full
Are you excited about the possibilities a new term and year brings? Or is this just a routine [yawn] start to another spring semester?
I am filled with hope and anticipation. I’m looking forward to meeting my students, discovering what they already know, identifying what their interests are, and exploring accounting with them.
Lest you think I am naïve, or a Pollyanna, I recognize there are lots issues that could (some might say should) discourage me. Each term also brings trials and difficulties. Some students aren’t very motivated. Teachers compete with technology for students’ attention. The list goes on and on.
But overall, I’m an optimistic, glass-half-full gal. I’ve always liked this quote from Churchill: A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Optimism is a major reason why my teaching remains fresh, more than 20 years into my academic career. Let’s consider a couple of opportunities others may view as difficulties.
Student motivation. Assigned readings go unread. We ask students to participate in discussions and they sit mutely, avoiding eye contact with the teacher. They don’t take notes well, study enough, follow directions, etc.
I could throw my hands in the air and groan about “students these days.” I could wish my institution admitted better quality students. I could resign myself to another “same old, same old” semester.
I could, but I don’t. Many students are curious. They want to learn. An optimist doesn’t sell students short. Each term is a chance to test a new method, tweak an old strategy, and learn from experience. It begins with examining what’s been tried, evaluating effectiveness, identifying alternatives from the pedagogical literature, gathering advice from skilled teachers, and seeking student feedback. An optimistic teacher is motivated by the opportunity to ignite student interest, recognizing that what worked one term may not work as well with another cohort, so it’s important to develop a set of alternatives.
One strategy I like is partnering with students; shifting power increases motivation. One way to signal partnering is by sharing power and ceding some control. I also like to ask students about their interests to connect them to content. [Recent followers of this blog might want to read Setting the Table for Learning, Big Questions, and Student Disinterest- Who’s Responsible? for additional examples and insights.]
Of course the devil is in the details. For a solid primer on student motivation, I recommend Pintrich’s (2003) A Motivational Science Perspective on the Role of Student Motivation in Learning and Teaching Contexts, Journal of Educational Psychology 95(4): 67-686. He explores “What do students want?” and “What motivates students in classrooms?” It’s a well-researched and thought-provoking piece.
Technology Distractions. Some teachers respond to the technology distraction issue with a “no-screens” policy. Others incorporate technology in class, putting screens to productive use. Some adopt an “I don’t care” approach, while others must adhere to their institutional policy.
Each new term is an opportunity to explore (or reexamine) students’ relationship to technology, its implications for learning, the ramifications for teaching and the ways it is changing content. One of my favorite articles about technology & teaching is Mishra and Koehler’s (2006), Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6): 1017-1054. The authors use a Venn diagram to consider the paired and triad relationships between/among teaching, learning, content and technology in a thoughtful and practical way. They ask the reader to:
- Identify examples of technological content in your discipline.
- Explore the ways your teaching has responded to the creation of new technological content knowledge.
- Characterize how technology has changed / is changing pedagogy in your discipline.
Answering these questions shifts the focus away from “technology as distraction,” by moving it toward technology’s potential to advance learning. That shift leads to more strategic use of technology by teacher and students.
Perhaps I’ll reread this post in six weeks and wonder what I was thinking? But that’s the beauty of the academic cycle; each semester presents new opportunities and different students. It’s never the same. Each lasts only fifteen weeks. When optimism fails and difficulties grow so large they block sight of the opportunities, I rely on this variant of the serenity prayer:
God, give me coffee to change the things I can,
and wine to get over the things I can’t.