Inside the First Teaching Project Meeting: Today’s Class and Life After College

Faculty wrote down activities and objectives

Faculty from 25 separate departments and programs, and two schools, recently met in the first meeting of the 2009 University Teaching Project. Joel Schwartz led these faculty in a series of activities designed to get them started on a year-long opportunity to work on their teaching in collaboration with their colleagues.

One activity for this first meeting was an examination, carried on in small groups, of what they would like their students to be able to “do,” not when they take the course exam or even in six months, but in ten years.

Teaching Project members outlined different classroom activities that would help prepare students for life after college. The faculty participants hoped that the activities and assignments they do in class produce students who are “engaged” with the world around them. This might mean that this semester’s short writing exercises and presentations lead to a lifelong development of the practical skills students learn from their liberal arts educations.

Engagement, they said, also meant finding networks of other thinkers after students left campus. Having students be, at least partially, responsible for their own learning allows them to consistently engage in their own education, be that in or out of the classroom. Teaching Project members hoped that students, having learned how to speak effectively and listen critically, could work effectively in groups with people from different cultures and with different backgrounds. In this way, students can apply the skills they learned to foster new relationships and create new opportunities for learning.

Overwhelming, however, Teaching Project members hoped their students left college prepared to challenge the world around them using the critical thinking skills they develop as undergraduates. Past experiences reading and discussing academic articles, ideally, would not only translate to understanding a journalistic account of current events, but also the ability to deconstruct that account for the author’s perspective, biases, use of evidence. Developing this type of critical thinking, be it in the form of analyzing the visual vocabulary used in an image, or connecting a cultural text to the social context from which it came, allows students to challenge the world around and form their own opinions.

If Teaching Project faculty run into their students in 10 years, they hope to find that they are still expanding the horizon of their knowledge, that they are able to work effectively within a diverse community of thinkers, and that they are able to critically judge the world they live in.

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