I remember too well the awful year I spent teaching middle school to 120 drama students. I was a total failure on all fronts–except for one: I knew I was unskilled. So, I came back home and got my degree in Culture, Literacy, and Language at UTSA. And then, online education came along and the world of the university teacher was flipped upside down.
To make matters even more fun, I teach in the field of Communications–which has morphed almost overnight. Three years ago, everything was on the web. Now, I hear that the Internet is dead. Everything is on mobile. I also hear that journalism is dead even though news sites are getting their peak audience share.
Here are some basic guidelines that still ring true:
- Students learn by applying the knowledge that they learn to their immediate world.
- Students enjoy self-guidance. That encourages them to learn. But they need to be challenged by an instructor who demands excellence.
- The student population I work with knows their personal goals–those goals need to be respected. And taken to the next level.
I remember that when I started middle school, I was all about student-centered learning. That was a mistake. Then, in college, I wanted to “bring” knowledge to the students. Also, big failure. But, my teaching style now is a balance between the two.
Each of my syllabi will have some common elements:
- Portfolio where students engage mediums that I assign, on topics of their interest
- revisions, revisions, revisions
- outside professional review
I believe in portfolios because they allow students to see and reflect on their learning. Further, and perhaps more important, they can use their online portfolios as part of their job hunt when they graduate. I don’t kid myself that students have spent tens of thousands of dollars just to gain wisdom from me. They need a job.
Revisions are a reality in the professional world of communications. Therefore, they are a constant reality in my classroom. Most students revise three times on any assignment in my classrooms. That’s a lot of reading on my part. But, I’m prouder of the work that they do at the end of that.
Outside professional review has become a necessity in the field of Communications as the field is quite frankly filled with mediocrity. In having an outside professional review, I can assure my students that their work is indeed professional standard and cutting edge. Further, students seem to respond to this as being their favorite part of the syllabus–it is the most emotionally intimidating. However, it is also critical for a student to transition into the real world.
I have one last adage that I repeat to my students daily: You are not paying for a degree. You are paying for an education.
The difference between a degree and an education is that a degree gives you skills–those are useful. An education gives you wisdom. A degree will get you a job interview. An education will let you know your true worth, help you find your true voice, give you confidence so that in the sticky situations that life presents, you will have a guidepost of how to get yourself out of it..