Designing environments to encourage student learning

We do a notoriously poor job teaching graduate students how to teach. Graduate programs devote tremendous energy into delivering content knowledge while pedagogy is all but ignored. Yet, we know that many graduate students will be teaching whether in undergraduate classes or in other professional settings. Content knowledge is vital, yet it is not the only component needed when teaching. In addition, one needs to understand how to design environments to encourage student learning and how to work with students. In today’s post, I will focus on designing positive learning environments.

Photo credit: planzeichnen

Teaching is hard work. It often doesn’t come easy and requires effort to improve.

I recently had an eye-opening experience in teaching novice learners.

I have been helping coach my son’s first grade basketball team.  Few of the boys have ever played organized basketball before.  They didn’t know the rules of the game or the terminology. They didn’t know what the out-of-bounds line was or how to shoot the ball. Quite simply, they didn’t know how to play the game.

This lack of knowledge required us to design activities for the kids to learn the rules, terminology, and skills needed to play.

As coaches, we had to ask ourselves, “What do we want the kids to know by the end of the season?”

Faculty need to ask the same question of their students. What do I want the students to know by the end of the class? What do I want them to know 5 years from now?

First grade boys have famously short attention spans. You have to change activities to keep them engaged.

All students need this. The attention span of first year students exceeds a first grader—but not by much!

As a result, I strongly encourage faculty to change up their teaching strategies.

In our book Teaching for Learning, my colleagues and I discussed 8 different teaching strategies including lecture, discussion, peer teaching, games, writing, reading, graphic organizers, and reflection.

Some of these strategies will work better in certain classes than in others. However, I suggest that you alternate among the various strategies to keep your students engaged.

At the core, this is the primary question in designing successful learning environments: What strategies are you going to use and when in order to guide your students’ learning?

When designing learning environments, think about:

1) what principles of learning you are trying to use

2) what preparation you need to do as the instructor

3) how the process of implementing the teaching strategy will work.

Teaching is hard work, but is one of the most rewarding aspects of my academic work.

I love seeing students progress from the first few weeks to the end of the semester or at graduation.

However, this transformation doesn’t happen by accident.

It requires designing environments to encourage student learning.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful as you try to implement intentional design into your own classes.

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