Learning to Learn

For quite some time, I’ve held the view that the most important thing I can teach my students is the ability to teach themselves things.  Whether they learn a particular lesson I spout out in class is one thing.  However, if they can take a topic for which they have little background, research said topic, and synthesize that information into their “problem solving toolbox” is far more valuable than any one specific topic that I will teach them.

A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Note to Faculty:  Don’t be Such a Know-It-All” (Jan 17, 2012 by Dan Berrett) discusses one faculty member’s “Stump the Chump” teaching method.  The big idea here is that his students pose questions that he specifically doesn’t know the answer to, and he solves the problem in front of them.  This takes a great deal of confidence to be able to risk “not knowing the answer” to a question in class and being embarrassed in front of a group of students.  But I think this is one thing that students need to be exposed to more often.

We don’t know everything.  Do I know more than my students?  I hope so.   However, I don’t think it is possible to know everything about even the relatively narrowly-scoped classes that I teach.  Technology changes so fast; advances are made at a staggering rate.  But what I do know how to do is figure things out.  This doesn’t apply to just computer science or engineering classes.  This is applicable across the board in my opinion.  Academics are always learning.  Students should see this happening in real time.

Suggest Rather Than Propose

For a fairly long time, I've been a staunch proponent of the idea that the way in which one "wraps" a presentation (i.e., the way something is said or presented) is equally as important, if not more important, than "what's in the box" (i.e., the actual content of the presentation).  I've always found this particularly true when group problem solving or group work from my college days.  

It seems now that there is some research to back this up (perhaps there always has been but I just didn't know about it).  This article states that:

Psychologists have found that the more assertively you express an idea, the more likely it is the person hearing it will resist it.

A suggestion might come in the form of "What would happen if…" whereas a proposal might come in the form of "If I were you, I would …".