Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Much is Too Much?: Balancing the Course Content

Guest Writer, Lynnette Mawhinney

Fifteen weeks. Fifteen weeks is what we, as faculty, are given in order to provide our students with foundational knowledge to be utilized in the workforce. For the last six years I have been teaching in higher education, I continually find myself overwhelmed at the beginning of the semester. I am trying to think how I can fit all the vital information my students need in order to be successful teachers themselves. How am I supposed to do that in fifteen weeks!?!

But faculty historically find a way to cram all the information students need to know into a lecture form. On the other hand, as we are taught early on in teaching, all information needs to be scaffolded (Lev Vygotsky). So we slow down, break the information up, and reinforce it with hands-on activities. We find a pace that suits the students and ourselves.

Yet, I cannot seem to get my mind around a keynote speech I saw this summer. Howard Gardner, father of multiple intelligence theory, said that faculty should take one important concept they would want their students to know in an hour. Then take that same concept and break it up over the course of a whole semester. As one who teachers Educational Psychology, I immediately think, “he’s right!” This is the most effective way for our students to retain information. Although, at the end of fifteen weeks, it is only one concept they know, when they will need multiple concepts for the workforce.

So I am left asking the question, how much is too much content? Where is the balance between covering all the content students need to be successful verses overloading them with information they will never retain?

1 comment:

  1. Great question, Lynnette--wish I had an answer. I surely don't. But your description of what Dr. Gardner was recommending seems to be what the whole "student learner outcome" issue is all about. If we come up with 4 or 5 outcomes we want our students to reach by the end of the semester, and break them up into smaller steps over the course of the 15 weeks, that guarantees that we're thinking of those desired goals throughout and that, hopefully, we're providing our students with multiple chances to attain those broad competencies. To me, facts are easily forgettable, and in this age of Google easily retrievable. It's the broad skills--ways of thinking and knowing and communicating--that are important.