Thanks for coming to last week’s faculty workshop on “Rules, Rules, Rules”–1/27/12

Professors Frank Holt and Jim Garson, of the CTE Faculty Resources Division, led an interesting discussion last Friday on the question of rules in the classroom.  This topic was chosen because there had been strenuous disagreement at the last faculty workshop about how instructors should treat rules: were they indispensable for maintaining order, or a distraction from the real work of learning?

Dr Holt kicked things off by asking attendees to answer each of the following three questions:

–What are some rules you always enforce, and how?

–What are some rules you’d like to enforce, but don’t know how?

–What were some rules you hated as a student?

The most popular rules among this group were policies about late work and cell phone interruptions, followed by “no quiz makeup” and classroom civility policies.

The most difficult rules to enforce seemed to have been about late work, tardiness, and attendance.

Interestingly, many of the attendees could not remember a rule they hated as students.  At most, they identified the inconsistency of their old teachers as the aspect of rules they disliked the most as students.

Here are some of the topics that came up in the midst of a lively discussion:

  • Plagiarism: among the English profs attending the session, this was considered one of the gravest offenses students could commit in their classes, and the penalties were routinely severe.
  • The double-edged nature of technology: there was extensive discussion of the role of technology to enhance classes and the classroom experience, but this was always offset by students’ tendency to use them to distract themselves and their classmates.  Cell phones, web surfing on laptops and tablets, all these possibilities also made it harder to decide whether to allow technology into the classroom or keep it outside.
  • Clickers were mentioned as a device to enhance engagement through on-the-spot questioning of students on discussions.
  • Consistency: Consistent enforcement is necessary to sustain engagement, because  students hate the possibility of other students getting advantages from an oversympathetic professor.  Yet every course, especially in a school with adult students, will feature some students with real-world circumstances that have to be addressed.  What to do?  Flexible but minimalist rules seem key here, with some allowance for unforeseen circumstances.  One faculty member for example allows students to drop three quiz grades, so that factors like sickness, traffic, etc. do not interfere with a student’s grade.
  • Large vs. Small classes: As in so many other things, rules seemed to become far more important for success in large classes than in small ones, because of the need to maintain order and consistency for larger, less homogeneous groups.

One of the closing comments was that much of the discussion seemed to circle around the problems of engagement again, where instructors were confronting the problem of disengaged student behavior manifesting itself either in the form of passive (inattention, cell phone surfing) or active (aggressively, disruptive) behavior.  Yet rules, if they focus on compliance at the expense of real learning, can also create or reinforce their own forms of disengagement.

The workshop broke up at 2:30, with the promise to pick up on some aspect of the engagement issue on Feb. 24th.

DM

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