Reconnecting with the Course Goals
The final weeks of the semester can be overwhelming. When there are too many tasks, too many competing demands for our attention, it can be difficult to prioritize and to focus. Many students are just trying to get through the term at this point, and they may have lost their sense of purpose: why they took certain courses in the first place, and why the coursework matters. That’s why a pause to reflect on the goals and priorities in our courses can be grounding for students and for us. It can help us prioritize for the rest of the semester, and it can help students stay more focused and motivated.
When we design the learning experiences and the coursework students will do, we usually have an instructional purpose in mind for each activity and task, learning goals we hope students will achieve by the end of the semester. These goals, and thus the purpose of each activity or assignment, often seem self-evident to us, but they aren’t so for most students. Just as it’s useful to remind students of the big-picture course goals, which helps them see value in the work they’re doing, it’s also helpful to make the purpose of each assignment and activity explicit. You might do this by explaining the purpose in writing on a project description, by talking about it in class, or even by asking students to tell you what they think the purpose of an activity was and then discussing it.
The TILT Higher Ed project, based at UNLV, promotes the use of transparent teaching methods as a central component of inclusive and effective teaching. They explain, “Transparent teaching methods help students understand how and why they are learning course content in particular ways,” and they recommend discussing each assignment’s learning goals and design rationale before students begin their work. This way they can better understand the learning benefits. Explaining the rationale behind your course design and teaching methods is particularly helpful if you are teaching in a way that may be new for students. For example, if students are used to lecture courses with high-stakes exams, and you are using active learning or project-based learning, explaining your rationale can help students understand why your course is designed differently and the benefits of your methods.
All that said, it’s likely the big-picture course goals that students need to reflect on most now. Thinking about how the learning goals of the course connect with their own personal, intellectual, or professional goals can be a powerful motivator. In How Learning Works, Ambrose and colleagues explain:
Even though students’ goals may not correspond exactly to our goals for them, these two sets of goals (ours and theirs) do not always conflict. In fact, when some of their goals align with ours, powerful learning situations tend to result. Imagine, for example, if the engineering student mentioned above came to see that being able to develop, present, and evaluate a logical argument could help him become a more effective engineer (for example, by helping him defend an engineering design choice to a client or to communicate engineering limitations to colleagues). With his own goals and his philosophy professor’s goals in closer—and therefore more productive—alignment, his motivation to pursue learning goals may be strengthened. Moreover, if an activity satisfies more than one goal, the motivation to pursue that activity is likely to be higher than if it satisfies only one goal. Relevant to this point is the fact that affective goals and social goals can play an important role in the classroom (Ford, 1992). For instance, if a student’s goals in an industrial design project course include leaming and applying fundamental design principles (a learning goal), making friends (a social goal), and engaging in stimulating activity (an affective goal), then allowing the student to work on the course project as part of a group provides her the opportunity to satisfy multiple goals at the same time and potentially increases her motivation.
To read more about the complexities of student motivation, check out chapter three of How Learning Works, which is available as a free ebook through FSU’s libraries.
If you’d like some support to design an activity that helps students reflect on the course learning goals, their progress toward those goals, and how best to spend their time for the rest of the semester, please contact us for a consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you!
Equity and Inclusion in Higher Education: Strategies for Teaching
Wednesday, April 6th | 2:30-3:45pm | RSVP for the Zoom link
Please join us for an interactive session, during which our guest facilitators will share an approach to inclusive teaching that involves engaging in self-reflection, creating inclusive curricula, and implementing inclusive pedagogy. During the workshop, faculty will have the opportunity to accomplish the following:
- Examine the principles that guide their DEI work;
- Consider a variety of inclusive pedagogies appropriate for their teaching contexts;
- Review strategies for curating inclusive curriculum materials appropriate for their teaching contexts; and
- Identify potential inclusive assessments appropriate for their teaching contexts.
Rita Kumar, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Faculty Enrichment Center at the University of Cincinnati and former Professor of English at University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. Her research interests include problem-based learning, inclusive classroom practice, and faculty development. She serves on the Executive Board of the Women’s Network, American Council on Education Women’s Network-Ohio.
Brenda Refaei, Ed.D., is Director of the Learning + Teaching Center and a Professor of English and Communication at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College where she teaches developmental, first- and intermediate English composition. Dr. Refaei is an Engaging in Excellence in Equity Fellow.