As part of strategic planning, we are having discussions on campus about what our (college faculty’s) work will look in twenty years. One exercise was to list the percentage of time spent among various tasks. For many of us the percentages added up to over 100%. This lead me, in a moment of reverie, to the following ideas on efficiency and “bang for the faculty buck”.
One assignment – Three outcomes
I am working with a group of faculty (science, writing, math) that is considering this idea. What about assignments that have multiple outcomes? How about, say, a lab report that the science faculty could grade for science correctness, the writing faculty could grade for technical writing proficiency and the math faculty could grade for quantitative reasoning? Such an assignment would have efficiency benefits for the student – one paper for three classes and efficiency benefits for the faculty, if the logistics were not too bad, of just grading in the area of their expertise. I have seen syllabi that prohibit such “two-fer” projects but why not?
Outside experts – Collaboration among faculty
I have heard faculty complain that students in their classes cannot do simple quantitative reasoning tasks despite having taken our elementary statistics course (or not). What about having an expert, a math faculty statistician, visit the class, lecture on the issue at hand and even help design the assignment and evaluation instrument. Our librarians visit classes all over campus helping students with information literacy and I am sure there are other pockets of expertise on campus. This type of collaboration needs to be built into the faculty reward structure.
Time spent grading tests – Or not
I know of faculty members who carefully annotate tests and papers. And I have seen students place such papers immediately in the trash can. The faculty wasted their time and the student learned nothing further. Why not grade the papers just to determine the students’ grades with wrong or incomplete answers circled and points assigned according to a rubric? Then let the students correct the papers for an additional percentage. The faculty member will have to grade the papers twice but can be much more efficient each time. Other time saver possibilities. Record verbal comments as the paper is being graded to cut down on writing comments. If part of an answer is a Yes or No choice, have students circle the answer rather than write the answer somewhere on their paper – faster to grade.
There are commonalities of approach that occur within a discipline and between disciplines. In math for example there is Vedic Math developed (or rediscovered) in the early 1900’s which has 12 or 16 Sutras or common methods. Here is an example. http://www.vedicmaths.org/vertically-and-crosswise The general scientific method would be common in biology, chemistry, and physics. Data analysis would be common to economics, political science, sociology, etc. I taught an efficient combined linear algebra and differential equations course – efficient because the topics had significant overlap – bases, linear combinations, independence and the like. The Common Core is designed with scaffolding that cycles upward through repeating basic concepts. If such commonalities were taught in a consistent manner, the faculty would have it easier and so would the students.
Variations – Common structure
This is a little bit in the math weeds, but often we teach how to approach a problem by working from simple to complex and then often give up on the complex. If we taught the logic of the problem with all the ramifications at the beginning, we would get more bang for the buck. Since I am currently teaching them, I am thinking about word, motion, and mixture problems.
Variations – Levels of learning
Again in the math weeds. The examples one works in class can be chosen so that we can talk to students of differing proficiencies at the same time. The basic algorithm that solves the type of problem would be what the average student needs. The variations of the problems would have lessons that the above average student can use and appreciate. This is a bit hard to articulate. I think I mean that the average student is most interested in mastering the method and the more proficient student can, with the aid of the instructor, get more context and nuance at the same time.
The ideas above are examples of collaboration outside of our disciplines, leveraging of expertise throughout the campus, consideration of the student learning value of a teacher’s time expenditures and leveraging commonalities. Some could be encouraged with an appropriate reward structure.