Saturday, February 12, 2011

Meeting with the Other Side (aka Humanities)

The week before classes start is usually Professional Development week. Attendance to a determined number of hours is compulsory, and when teaching at different colleges the time crunch and logistics issues can be considerable. So it happens quite often that I attend activities just because their timing suits me. And the best thing is that I always learn something, and very often it is exactly the kind of knowledge I needed (but I did not know at the time).
As an example, a couple of years ago I participated in a Camtasia training. I was just starting to think about how to improve online courses, and when trainings were offered I jumped on them, but too late. The two courses intended for beginners were full, and I had only two options left, one being Camtasia. I had to google up what podcasts were because I had no clue. To say I was hesitant of the value of that course for me is an understatement, but there I went. Big credit goes to Micah Orloff from @One Institute who was the trainer: when finished I was able to record lectures, screens, and even do fancy stuff like inserting music and transitions. It was a great jump start for my podcasting, which I offer these days for all my classes.
Last Friday I participated in a book club activity organized by the Communication Arts Department.  We were to discuss Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers do
Mea culpa: I had not read the book. In fact, I only remembered the meeting when the reminder popped up on my calendar. I had signed up in a panic the last day of ProfDev week, when I realized that I had one more hour to fill and no activities to go. As any other student n the digital age, I spent some time on the internet looking for summaries of the book. At some point I accepted the fact that I had not done my homework and honesty would be my best option. 
The small group that gathered on Friday belonged to the Other Side: they were all English, Communication, and Philosophy instructors. Once I admitted my sin and received absolution from the the lead, Mary, the fun part started. We had to develop overarching goals for our courses that would enhance the intrinsic motivation of students (the wording was lengthier and included the words sustained and emotional), then questions that we could return to throughout the course. Aspects such as assessments and how to make students learn from their own mistakes were discussed. The two ours passed really quickly as the participants shared their ideas and approaches. I had lots of questions that I had no time to ask, aspects of writing and critical thinking I had always been interested. One aspect that I struggle a lot is how to teach/show my students to improve their problem-solving skills. Too often I see the Google approach to problem-solving- look up the words and find the best match. his approach however has severe limitations if dealing with unusual or complex problems. I am also interested in philosophy applied to science.
At the end of the workshop I did get to talk a bit to a couple of people, and discussed scientific writing in general and some other writings in particular. I hope to establish some kind of interaction with humanities instructors- it would be a really great way to work together on materials and assessments that combine scientific method with the power of the written word. I am looking forward the next book club meeting...
Oh, and I ordered the book :-)

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