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Showing posts from June, 2010

The Nonaggression Pact in Reverse

I guess most college professors have heard about the college teaching version of the nonaggression pact. The teacher sends subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages to the students: “I’m a very busy person. I won’t challenge you to do much if you’ll leave me alone. I won’t expect much of you so you shouldn’t expect much of me.” Obviously, this attitude leads to grade inflation and a mediocre (at best) educational experience.

It would be interesting to give college teachers truth serum and ask them what they think of this approach. My guess is that a lot of people are appalled by it but I would bet that a significant number would shrug and suggest “that’s just what college education is like.” The nonaggression pact has been around for a long time now. In 2010, I sometimes think we see so little truly exceptional education that we don’t even know that it exists. It is hard to strive for beauty if you have never experienced it. Acceptance of the nonaggression pac…

Are Your Class Goals Nouns or Verbs?

A good friend of mine asked me recently what my goal was in teaching one of my courses (financial accounting). I think he expected me to list out certain topics and concepts that I wanted all my students to learn. I call these “noun goals” because they describe rules, computations, or the like that students should come to know. For example, I might want my students to be able to compute cost of goods sold using a perpetual LIFO system.

In truth, I don’t think I have a single “noun goal” because I am not certain what any of my students are going to need to know after they leave my class. I am not sure if some or even any of my students will ever need to compute cost of goods sold using a perpetual LIFO system. How can a topic be a course goal if most of the students may never need the knowledge?

I explained to my friend that I had a single goal for my classes and I call it a “verb goal” because it involves action. I will be perfectly happy if I can get all of my students (…

June 6, 2011

When I lead teaching seminars, I often start out with a quote and a challenge that I hope tie together well enough to give the audience members something to ponder.

The quote is: "Teaching does not come from years of doing it. It actually comes from thinking about it." Your teaching, I believe, will not get better simply by ongoing repetition. Too often, bad teachers stay bad teachers year after year until they retire (often with an established list of rationalizations). Teaching gets better when people sit down and think seriously about what is going on in their classes, why it is happening in that way, whether they like the result, and—if not—what can be done differently. I am always reminded of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you do something in class that does not work as you hoped, don’t just do it again and expect better results.

The challenge is: “Work to become 5 pe…