CLT 15th Anniversary: P1

Last week the Center for Learning and Teaching at AUC was celebrating their 15th anniversary in a 3 day event where a lot of teaching and pedagogy was discussed and talked about through different lenses.  The ironic thing is, I attended almost all the event because I was also STA-ing, yet only managed to sit and take notes in a few of the talks. This post will mainly cover the co-design activity I was involved in, while the following posts will cover the other things that I attended.

The co-design activity, was a session where students and faculty sat on a table and discussed their motivations and demotivations. We had professors from different fields (As far as I remember: Chemistry and MICT? – need to verify) and Dr. Maha, who was also doing a lot of facilitation along with voicing her opinion. There were two other students apart from myself (memory struggles to remember their major but I think one was accounting and the other was CS)

The activity started with answering questions individually, about ourselves and about the other side.(meaning: we, as students answered questions about ourselves and put ourselves in faculty’s shoes to answer the parts about them from our perspective)
The questions tackled what makes students motivated/demotivated to do well in a class, and what motivates/demotivates faculty also in class. We had to also rank our answers in order of importance.

After that, a discussion was started about the students perspective, and we shared everything we wrote on our motivations to do well in a class. These included, making family and parents happy/proud, earning respect, and being appreciated, long term learning, and to declare the major of our choice. Other factors mentioned were constructive feedback that would be tailored to student performance, availability of the professor on campus or through email, and when the professor cares for students’ learning. From here, the professors around the table started asking us questions to understand more of what we meant. For example I had said earlier that it would be nice for a professor to constantly check if the students are understanding, and I later on clarified that this might not only be in asking “Did everyone understand?” but rather by asking a question about what was taught.

Since professors thought the main reason was grades, they were surprised to hear that none of our motivations said ‘grades’ in the direct sense. However, when for example one of us said that she wants to make her parents happy, then that indirectly entailed doing well on courses in general. So I think what was interesting here was that professors realized that we have reasons behind wanting to get good grades, it’s just not for the sake of it, whether these reasons are family related, or to feel achieved and respected. There was an agreement from both sides that engagement inside the classroom and walking home with added knowledge are factors that influence student motivation. One of us suggested trying ice breaking games at the beginning of each class to refresh the students and make them feel comfortable inside the class. To me, this suggestion linked in with the fact that Dr. Maha wrote about having fun as one of student motivations and also linked in with what Sherri Spelic did with us at the beginning of the class we spent together. They were basic stretching/dance moves that were so much fun to do, and she gave us the freedom to do them however we wanted, but I believe that left a positive vibe for the rest of the class time. This part of the discussion was useful because it shed light on things that students would like to have more in class to become more engaged and hence motivated; and also on the fact that the learning part of a course might play a stronger role than the need for grades at certain times, and so we defied the cliche reasons here. (Yay us)

The second part involved discussing what demotivates students, and there were a variety of aspects considered here. From our side, the demotivators included having too much workload and little appreciation, too high expectations, when the material is not interesting or not conveyed in an engaging way. I personally experienced an issue last semester that I also shared which was cheating, when students cheat, it becomes unfair to the people who do study, and this might not be exactly related to the faculty, but sometimes the professor puts too much trust in the students and doesn’t take any measures to ensure that students aren’t cheating. Another point I raised, is having too much focus on the math or the algorithm rather than what it does, in a big picture format. If I don’t see or know what the outcome of what I’m learning is, then I lose purpose. Here, someone brought my attention that at times the professor gives the outcome later on in the course, rather than then and there, and this makes sense sometimes: that you need to holistically learn something to know how it contributes to the grand scheme of events. Another pretty obvious one was advanced exams and little time, and we talked in detail about how one hard exam question can lead a student to do bad overall in the exam even if the rest is easy. I think this issue stems from the type of atmosphere the professor creates in class and the kind of emphasis they place on exams. A professor who often tries to calm students and put them in a confident state of mind might have students respond better even if the exam was challenging. An interesting point raised during this discussion is the element of fear that is sometimes prevailing in class: that sometimes professors enforce rules that are too strict, or they themselves are intimidating and unapproachable. This in turn, might create a barrier between the student and the learning material since the person  conveying the information is now a source of negative energy rather than information. Faculty also added a few good points in their responses to this: they mentioned reading monotonously from slides, being uninterested, treating students unequally or having bias in terms of grading (and it’s funny that this point wasn’t exactly mentioned from the students’ side) and having no flexibility within the course to make any changes or pursue interesting topics to the student (and I think Dr. Maha was the one who raised this point since I don’t think any professor would allow the students to make changes to material but her- haha)

We then moved on to discuss things from faculty perspective, and I found these questions challenging as I was answering them individually. Mainly because – and I’m extremely apologetic for saying this – I didn’t ever put my shoes in a professor’s shoes. In fact I’ve never given much thought to the fact that they might be motivated or not to come and teach. (Drs reading this, please don’t kill me). To me, (before doing this activity) teaching was their job, and sometimes their lives revolved around it and that was pretty much it. Sometimes I felt sorry for professors who had so much energy which wasn’t reciprocated, but I mean, that’s as far as it went. Having to sit and write this down made them much more human and real to me. (okay I think I’ve made the point… moooving onn) Faculty motivations from students perspective was mainly, having students who engage in class and and when faculty feel that their efforts are paying off and the students are learning and benefiting from what is being taught. On the other hand, it was nice to know that professors like to be asked questions in class and that they are motivated by this as it shows students’ interest and responsiveness. Other interesting point raised too (which I was unexpecting to hear) was laughter in class and having students feel comfortable to participate, laughter/fun, and talking with others about topics of interest. All the points covered and discussed in this aspect broadened my understanding on the fact that the student plays an influential role in helping the professor become motivated, and hence when professors are motivated, they can create a better learning environment, and are actually willing to support and help students in many more ways. The funny part though here was their liking that students come to their office hours, maybe because it makes them feel that they are needed beyond the scope of the classroom and that students care enough to come outside the class time. As students we  added here that it is well known about some professors that they like this, and so some students just go to office hours without having anything to say or do ‘just to show themselves” to the professor.

This led to a a bit of a sidetrack as we told the professors about students who go to their raise their grades and actually manage to do so through a series of lame arguments like “I want to graduate with honors..” or other equally awful things. The faculty seemed appalled at this, but I nodded in my head at the number of times I’ve seen this happen within my major. We also got into the fact that a lot of students at AUC get pricey tutoring privately and this also was news to them. We also talked about segregation and microaggression inside the classroom and how this affects students in the most basic ways like willingness to attend class.

We then moved to faculty demotivations, and here there were quite a few overlaps between what we wrote and what they mentioned. They mentioned talkative students, use of cellphones, coming in late to class and students who miss classes and don’t care to catch up. I would also add to this part that at the time of student evaluations, if a professor had a low score without enough reasoning, this would probably demotivate them. Although at this part we were starting to run out of time and had to wrap up.

Overall, what was new to me was the professor’s liking for curious students, their wanting of office hour visits, that they care about the class being engaging and interactive and that they do, don’t like monotonous reading from slides – haha. This session was beneficial on many levels. First it exposed me to other students’ opinions and what motivates them, and it gave a new dimension for faculty in my eyes, and made them feel more approachable and accepting of suggestions (if they are voiced in a tactful way of course). It would be really great if CLT manages to bring more faculty from SSE majors and have them involved in these discussions and also on the other hand try to reach other types of students who may be learning in different ways than the ones who were at the table on Monday.

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