Teaching Non-Majors: February 16th Session

When teaching a course that is not in the interest of some students, professors can encounter a wide range of challenges. It is common for a student to take classes that are required, but yield no interest to the student. Scott Jaschik shares a conversation that he had through e-mail with P. Sven Arvidson, the author of  Teaching Nonmajors: Advice for Liberal Arts ProfessorsThroughout the conversation, Scott asks several questions in reference to the book. From the responses, the most important things for professors to do when teaching non-majors are to:

  • Set and maintain high expectations for all students
  • Remain supportive
  • Create time to learn about your students’ interests
  • Elicit critical thinking and reflection responses to course material
  • Plan breaks in lectures to avoid losing student attention
  • Make your availability outside of class known
  • Provide feedback on assignments so the students can track their progress
  • Give unplanned assignments that are based on readings to ensure that more students actually do the assigned readings

In “Teaching Science to Nonscience Majors,“Elisabeth Pain reports on Edgar Moctezum’s unique methods of engaging nonscience majors in his undergraduate classroom. Moctezum uses cinemotography in his classroom to relate biology to the students’ current society. In addition, he will take his class on field trips to demonstrate particular themes discussed in class material. Moctezum said, Also important is not to fall into the trap of thinking it’s easier than teaching majors, “ which sums up the misconceptions that many may have about teaching non-major students. Moctezum goes on to say that teaching non-majors is actually a more challenging task than most would think.

The article What Does It Take to Teach Nonmajors Effectively? by Feryal Alayont of Grand Valley State University, Gizem Karaali of Pomona College, and Lerna Pehlivan of York University, discusses expert opinions of effective teaching strategies for a class with non-major students. The authors of the article organized a panel of math experts to share their successful teaching strategies for non-major students. The panel was titled “Effective Strategies for Teaching Classes for Nonmajors.” Although the authors focus on math in particular, their suggestions can be applied to many other subjects.  The major points highlighted in the article are:

  • To teach “thinking” skills
  • Use students’ interests to design projects and assignments
  • Focus on important life skills, such problem-solving and communication skills
  • Encourage creativity
  • Be open to course modification (based on student needs)
  • Create an interactive classroom environment

In Mothering at Mid-Career: Off-Kilter, Libby Gruner describes her experience with teaching a class full on non-majors as an “off-kilter” metaphor pertaining to her new experience with progressive lens glasses. Gruner compares her new prescription glasses to the non-majors’ experiences in her introduction to children’s literature class. She explains that it is her job, just as it is her job to learn to focus with her new glasses, to help the students in the class learn to focus on the objectives of the course. Gruner is able to relate to her students because she also is on a mission to master focus and clarity within the classroom.

Right now, as I struggle to adjust to my new lenses, I sympathize with them; I share their fear that it may never come clear, may never be easy. But, oh, that moment when it all comes into focus! I can only hope we all get there, eventually. “- Libby Gruner


Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, February 16th session on “Teaching Non-Majors.” Our esteemed presenters for the February 16th session include:

James D. Teresco, Associate Professor of Computer Science

Laura Kinney, Associate Professor of Mathematics

Angela Ledford, Professor of Political Science

Provisions’ sessions are held from 12:00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!! 🙂

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