CTL Newsletter: March 28, 2017

When teaching an introductory course, should we introduce every aspect of the discipline? What should we include, and what should we leave out? And what if we have to cover certain topics and skills in order to prepare students for the 200-level or for graduate school entrance exams? In these cases, we might not be able to leave anything out.

These were some of the questions we addressed in our recent workshops on “Gateway Courses: Challenges and Opportunities.” The workshops began with some time for us to reflect on our gateway courses, especially the opportunities and challenges that they present for students, for us, and for our departments. We then discussed our answers, focusing on how we might be able to address some typical challenges.

Alongside the challenges related to content, there are the challenges of teaching first-year students. Many are not prepared for hard work and critical thinking. They are not enculturated into an academic environment. Moreover, some lack the necessary quantitative and/or literacy skills. For them, the gateway is already half shut.

We might address these challenges by prioritizing student learning. The important thing is what students need to learn, not what teachers want to teach. As always, best practices (as articulated by Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson) are in order. These include high expectations, active learning, time on task, and prompt feedback. If we need to enculturate our students into an academic setting, then it’s important for us to be transparent about our values and our expectations. And we can foster a growth mindset in our students, so that they will rise to the challenges of gateway courses without being too discouraged by the inevitable setbacks.

I’m struck with the urgency of addressing these challenges. Departments want to keep the gates open for potential majors and minors. Teachers want to introduce students to their beloved discipline. And students want to pass their gateway courses in order to choose and enter their chosen fields of study – and, ultimately, to graduate from college.

— Jocelyn McWhirter
   Director, Center for Teaching and Learning


Gateway Courses:

The Challenge of Teaching the Introductory-Level Course

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Higher Education

The Unwritten Rules of College

The Mindset Kit

New on the GLCA/GLAA CTL Website: In a home-page video presentation,Deirdre Johnston (Hope College) and Dagmar Kusá (American University of Bulgaria) discuss their cross-cultural course, Narratives of Peace, Justice, and Conflict: Transition in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Together with Rima Rantisi (American University of Beirut), they and their students engaged in reading, reflection, and interaction to help them deconstruct myths, stereotypes, and prejudices in and beyond their own cultural settings. Professors and students then traveled to South Africa, where they witnessed similar myths, stereotypes, and prejudices in a cultural setting that was different for everyone. The online presentation is engaging and instructive. For a brief written description of their course, see the abstract of their AAC&U presentation.

The collaboration was made possible by Global Course Connections. For more information about Global Course Connections, please contact Albion College liaison Midori Yoshii.

Also on the GLCA/GLAA CTL home page: a highly embarrassing “Teaching Tips” video. Jocelyn McWhirter (Albion College) waves her writing assignmentswhile discoursing on transparency.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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