December Workshop Work on Defining Elements of A&I Seminars
Workshop Discussion of Definitions and Examples of Argument and Inquiry Features
Created at the Winter Break Workshop on Implementing the A&I Seminars
Compiled by S. Ottaway
What is a “Liberal Arts Approach to Learning”?
It is not narrowly disciplinary.
Neither vocational nor pre-professional.
Delays specialization; characterized by an openness and interest in connections across disciplines.
Encourages inquisitiveness and asking questions
Opportunities for discussion to promote asking questions, making articulate arguments, getting and giving feedback
Direct encounters with primary sources.
What Does a Collaborative Learner Look Like? How Can You Create a Classroom Environment that Enhances Students’ Cooperation
Skill in listening and understanding other students – faculty take the role of moving discussion forward to a deeper understanding of the text, etc. Move towards explicit discussion of corporate nature of discussions as necessary. Freshman and upper level classes seem to do this most naturally.
Move away from the view of the faculty as ‘expert’ to the exclusion of valuing peers’ input.
Cultivate consciously the skill of teaching students to build on each others’ input, not just restating it.
Problem of students’ preconceptions of individual disciplines as ‘fact based’ versus interpretive.
Problem of getting students to see value in their own contributions.
Collaboration nurtured through projects where students must collaborate to complete the project (e.g. geological surveys that require 3-4 people to complete, each having his/her own diagnostic test)
BIG projects (that are best done by some number of people) are less successful – e.g. each student in a group receives a different article on a topic, which they must synthesize together.
Is collaboration a natural fit for all disciplines? Perhaps to different extents – e.g. music is a less natural fit.
Is ‘learning from each other’ a goal that everyone wants to achieve?
How can we make it essential that students listen to each other? Turn it into a requirement in some way (e.g. in a final exam, students are required to reference others’ presentations)
We need to give students a stake in learning from each other, and seeing what other students’ are capable of.
Is a ‘personal experience’ a sensible component? What does it mean to understand another individual? To value another’s experience? What is the instructor’s role in this?
The hart part is being able to disagree in a way that is polite, respectful, productive and impersonal.
SO – Set ground rules for participation in discussions:
Ask – How do we disagree effectively
How do we articulate differences in perspective?
Would the ‘common experience’ help with teaching students the appropriate behaviors for collaborative learning ?
Peer review – blind or not – can play an important role.
Intellectual independence comes out of confidence, but confidence of a very particular sort: students need the confidence to manage more than one perspective, rather than to seek a single answer. Students need to be able to look at a question and be able to investigate it competently. The formulation of the question is important because it needs to be a question whose answer is not immediately apparent.
We also need a way to break students out of high school habits of mind that lead them to do things because they are told to and because they will be graded. They want to be told exactly what to do, and are fearful when they are not sure what that is. Some students are overconfident, but many are not. It may also help to try to get at what they have been told in school, how they see the world, what their biases are.
Students sometimes have difficulty seeing a middle ground between “all opinions are equally valid” and “there is a right and wrong answer.” They need to learn that evidence can be brought to bear to support their opinions.
Possible ways of fostering intellectual independence:
· Use discussion after lecture or readings to lead students to investigate complexity and ambiguity.
· Encourage students by complimenting them when they do ask good questions and pushing them to probe further.
· Present a questionable point of view with the air of intellectual authority, then help them overcome their fear of refuting it (e.g, Plato’s belief that acquired knowledge is actually remembered from previous lives.)
Drawbacks: Stress (chasing high grades; justifying low grades)
SCRNC can respond to work without bringing in grades (though students still
often want to know hypothetical grades)
Benefit: ‘shock therapy’; setting the bar for what makes for success (academic boot camp); labor does not translate necessarily to superior grade.
Drawback: Student response (potential) of crisis (feelings of inferiority)
How do you counteract demoralization?
Do we have an agreed upon set of standards?
Grading as objective measure of exterior standard, or student performance?
Low-stakes papers, writing assignments that are staged, opportunities to rewrite, all of these will reduce stress.
Have students visit your office so that you can go over work, explain grades, suggest ways to improve.
Ethical Use of Information
What does this involve:
- Avoid plagiarism, proper citation form(s); copyright and fair use knowledge; recognition of fudged data, fabrication; need to have attention to use of human subjects (should be able to imagine these subjects as consumers of your work)
Have students ask “What kind of mischief can result from dishonest sources?”
Get students to think of what is wrong with this – stealing, errors are proliferated
Strength of argument should be the goal, so they will ask ‘is it OK to suppress
countervailing evidence? Students should be made to understand INTELLECTUAL honest, not merely ‘academic honesty’
Resources available: Carleton’s booklet “Academic Honesty at Carleton College”
Possible use of UCLA website
Copyright committee is developing materials
Use staged assignments on citation so students have room to learn
Have students evaluate sources for legitimacy and accuracy (Consider throwing in
some deliberately forged sources?)
“What does critical thinking look like in a first-year seminar”, workshop participants highlighted the following:
One starts off teaching critical thinking as a skill and over the course of the term, leads students to internalize critical thinking as a habit of mind.
We take a collaborative approach to critical thinking.
It’s important, in this regard, to create a safe space for students to challenge each other and the instructor.
This group recommended setting a tone whereby “any inquiry is good inquiry”
Content is important in these seminars, as you need to give students the tools to think critically.
One technique that has proven effective is to have students take personal experiences and examine them in a theoretical context.
It is important to teach students to be comfortable with not knowing the “right” answers all the time.
How to “Clarify How Scholars Ask Questions”
Recognition that the transition from high school to college is typically a move from learning to answer questions (with the ‘right answer’) to learning how to ask questions with multiple levels of detail and deciding what types of evidence is needed to answer these questions.
Need a tool to use in the first week of class to test this point to see where your students are.
Emphasize the common need to separate observations and descriptions from interpretations, while still learning to ‘think like an economist’ or ‘think like a scientist’.
Finding and Evaluating Information in Research and Reading
Students need to understand the context of information, and be able to distinguish primary and secondary sources.
Students should be able to understand the difference between an index and a collection, to distinguish between collections vs. google/Wikipedia etc.
Students should see the benefits of quality over volume of information
Students should be able to see the need for specialized resources based on disciplinary needs and conventions
Certain behaviors need to be addressed, and certain habits inculcated:
Identify the old habits that students bring to the classroom
Build on and/or work to exorcise these
Students tend to expect resources that contain full text on the web, and they will
likely ignore others
Students need to develop more habits of self-reflective learning
Teaching techniques that work: Use the following questions for students to adopt when evaluating evidence:
- Says who?
- Compared to what?
- Based on which evidence?
- For what reason?
- To whom is this evidence addressed (audience)?