February 16th Provisions Session Summary: Teaching Non-Majors

Our first Provisions session of the Spring Semester explored the theme of” Teaching Non-Majors.” Presenters shared previous experience with teaching both non-major and majored students, and their effective strategies for improving success for a variety of students. An audience of approximately 25 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations from Laura Kinney, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Angela Ledford, Professor of Political Science, and James D. Teresco, Associate Professor of Computer Science.

Laura Kinney started off the session with the topic of “Guiding Students in Mathematics Inquiry.” Laura began her presentation by stating that she views her introductory math courses (Math 100-Exploration in Numbers and Math 105- Exploration in Geometry) as an “invitation to learn and develop math creativity.” Laura discussed her method of teaching as being rooted in inquiry. The most important component of the class for her students is their opportunity to not know what happens next. She allows her students to ask questions without having to supply an answer, and because of this, her students ask many questions. The most important sentence in her classes is “I don’t know.” Laura stressed throughout her presentation that it is okay not to know the answers because it allows the students an opportunity to discover something. In order to create this inquiry climate, Laura encouraged the audience to make their classrooms a welcoming, patient and an interesting environment. To do this, it is important to promote openness for questioning, create boundaries to maintain a focal point, and promote hospitality that is free of judgement. She believes that inquiry encourages students to think using a variety of measures including observations, opportunity to try something new, opportunity to ask questions, uncertainty, and curiosity.

To access the materials that Laura provided the audience with, click below:

Angela Ledford was next to present about her experience teaching political ideologies to both non-major students and majored students. Through introspection of her own teaching methods, Angela discovered that she teaches her majored and non-majored students exactly the same. Angela guides her students to read critically by asking three questions, (1) what is the author’s conception of human nature, (2) what key concepts are given and how are they understood, and (3) what is the ultimate conclusion/vision for society. For each primary source read (a different ideology from those such as John Locke, Karl Marx, etc.), Angela asks her students to answer the three questions, which will ultimately lead the students to understand liberalism at the end of the course. In addition, Angela suggests that her students read the primary sources as a narrative, in order to better understand the material. The two main objectives that Angela hopes her students learn are how (1) to take critical notes on difficult readings, and (2) to understand the importance and relevance of political science.

Last to present was James (Jim) D. Teresco on Teaching Computer Graphics to Non-Majors.” Jim noted that one of the most common challenges he faces when teaching computer-grpahics to non-majors is engaging an uninterested audience. One way in which he engages the students is by allowing them to create something small within the first few classes. Completing a small task early on gives the students hope for learning the more difficult content of the course. Jim said that an important learning objective of his course is for the students to learn to navigate a real program that can be used in their future careers. Three other learning objectives of the computer graphic course are (1) problem solving, (2) digital literacy, and (3) general computer skills (Mac software). In general, students do not know what to expect when entering a computer science course, and therefore teaching this course is like  “starting from scratch.” Jim stated that teaching a course to non-majors requires patience for several reasons, such as (1) students may come to class unprepared, (2) students do not want to take the class but are required to, (3) some students do not care about the class and will therefor do the minimum amount of work, and (4) catering to a diverse population of student interests. When teaching this course to both majored students and non-majors, Jim faces many challenges including:

  • Fear/lack of confidence
  • “Shockingly” weak math skills
  • Poor spelling
  • Resentment of the liberal education requirement
  • Inability or unwillingness to follow instructions

In ending the presentation, Jim emphasized that learning is hard, but the pain is all part of the learning process that ultimately leads to success.

Following the presentations, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the audience.

Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, March 22nd session on “Teaching Online”Provisions’ sessions are 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!!

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!! 🙂