Is our Teaching up to our Resources?

There is extensive debate on whether online resourcing and teaching compare well with classroom-based teaching. This is hard to compare easily — double-blind studies tend to be hard to manage in education.

Yet more difficult is the comparison of different learning resources, whether used online or in class. How do I know that this textbook is better than another, or that this set reading is more effective than any of the others I may have chosen to set?

One approach is to ask.  Part of engaging with students is asking the what is helping them to learn.  Is the textbook comprehensible?  Are the readings taking too much time, and (dangerous though it may feel to ask) are there resources they have found that are more useful to their learning than those that are set? The benefits that online contexts have is that this feedback can be gathered confidentially from students – in class, it can be hard to stop the one or two louder opinions from drowning out others (though asking for comments on paper may diminish this).

A second approach is to observe.  What do your students quote in their early assessment work?  Which readings elicit thoughtful feedback (rather than mere repetition) in forums and discussion? What do the statistics in your Learning Management System tell you about how many students used a particular online link or uploaded resource? (Note that all of these measures need interpretation, and alone may not tell you much.)

A third approach is set out by Michael Feldstein in his article Good Enough vs. Better Enough. The challenge here is to look for better usage of the resources — usage that goes beyond our expectations. And to ask whether the resource is actually so good we would change our teaching so that the students engaged with the resource more.(1)

So here are a few tips as you prepare your next round of teaching:

  1. Try to avoid using, setting or requiring (use or purchase of) resources that you yourself are not passionate about.  (If it wasn’t a transforming experience for you, how realistic is the expectation that it will be for your students?)
  2. Set resources that you are excited about, that you will enthuse about, and that you have a desire to share with others.  (This can be a challenge if we are teaching with resources we have inherited, but we can ask what it was about them that may have excited our predecessor or course designer.)
  3. Refer to the set resources. Students do get frustrated to have a “set text” or “required text” (and even a merely “recommended” resource) which is not referred to often (or at all) in the course of the teaching.
  4. Engage the set resources. It is one thing to set the reading (or listening, or viewing), but engaging with it (and with the students’ engagement with it) is an order of magnitude step up in the likely valuation of the resource (and the teaching!)
  5. Invite student recommendation of resources. Good students, as we have all experienced, go well beyond what is set and find resources that help them.  Listen to what they have to offer and find yourself and your teaching transformed.

In the end, we may not be able to prove that we have the best resources. Hopefully, however, we will be able to say that we have good resources used well. And it would be great if we could tell publishers and the producers of resources how their effort to produce good resources has helped us to produce better learning opportunities for our students.

It would be great to hear how this works for you in practice.  Please do feel free to comment.

(1) “Good enough” means “good enough for the way I use curricular materials in my classroom.” “Better enough” means “better enough that I’m convinced I should change the way I teach.”

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