“It is not enough to do good. It must be done well.” – St. Vincent DePaul
This directive given by the namesake of our university is particularly meaningful at the start of an academic year as we begin planning our courses and prepping for the arrival of our students. It is important to ask ourselves, are we doing good well? And, perhaps more importantly, are we prompting our students to do good well?
One way many university faculty and administrators suggest we do good well is to engage with the community, or in other words, increase our level of civic engagement. Often times, people think of voting or perhaps even service learning when they hear civic engagement. However, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC & U) cites that civic engagement can include: community based service and research, civic pedagogies and collective problem solving, global learning focused on real-world challenges, diversity programs that promote learning across differences, integration of student and academic affairs, and advancing collaborative, generative partnerships that teach students how systems work and can be changed. AAC & U has also published Civic Prompts (2015) which highlights how every academic discipline can foster civic engagement. First Year Civic Engagement: Sounds Foundations for College, Citizenship and Democracy, summarizes the efforts of multiple universities to engage students in their communities throughout their first year of college. Elizabeth Hollander, 2015 Fall Forum on Teaching and Learning Keynote Speaker, highlights DePaul’s Chicago Quarter program in chapter 3 of this text.
In a 2006 TEDx talk, Gever Tulley discusses the secrets of engagement-based learning. Although he is discussing his work at the Tinkering and Brightworks schools for children, many of his suggestions are applicable to teaching college students as well.
Below we summarize a few key points from Gever’s talk that we can apply in our classrooms at DePaul:
We think with our hands
When we ask students to learn in a similar manner over and over again, we are limiting our teaching, and students’ learning. We commonly ask students to use vision and hearing to learn, but how often do we ask our students to experience their learning with their other senses? Think about how students can touch what you are teaching. Can you incorporate taste? smell? Incorporating more senses into your teaching can heighten students’ experience with the content and increase the potential for learning.
It is important to get both the mind and the heart involved in education
In his talk, Gever Tulley discusses the need to create meaningful experiences for students, saying “create a meaningful experience and the learning will follow; design the experience and the rest you get for free.” Instead of designing your courses around the content you want to teach, think about designing your courses around the types of experiences you want your students to have.
Learning should be tangible
Gever Tulley talks about a new pedagogy for education that does not divide education into discrete blocks of knowledge. Instead, he describes a three-step pedagogy to assist students in capturing inspiration and making knowledge tangible.
In this phase of the pedagogy, students identify different ways one particular concept might be applied. The instructor helps students identify different ideas about the concept, invites people into the classroom who apply these ideas outside of the classroom, then works with students to identify and pursue inspiration based on the ideas they’ve been presented.
In the expression phase of the pedagogy, students decide how they will express a new understanding of the content. Gever Tulley emphasizes that there are a wide variety of methods by which students might be able to express their understandings and allows students flexibility in determining how they would like to do that.
In the final stage, students are asked to show their new understanding of the concepts. As in the expression phase, students have flexibility in deciding how to show others their new understandings.
Know when to put your own pedagogy aside
In an environment with 10 week classes, our schedules are always packed. However, Gever Tulley reminds us that it’s OK to stray from our plans when a learning opportunity presents itself. In his talk, it was the opportunity to make cheese, but in higher education, it’s more likely to be a current event that prompts an adjustment in the order in which you present content or inspires you to teach something you had not intended to cover in your course.
Treat the city as an extension of the school
Learning does not occur in the microcosm of our classrooms and schools. There are many opportunities to use the city as our classroom. The Stean’s Center for Community-based Service Learning and Community Service Study can provide resources for community engagement in your classroom.
IT’S OK TO MAKE MISTAKES
Traditional education stresses perfection, oftentimes counting the number of mistakes students make to inform high-stakes decisions, such as grades. However, making mistakes is a natural and necessary part of learning. Think about ways you can encourage students to make mistakes as they explore new content and adopt new knowledge.
Interested in Learning More?
This year’s Fall Forum on Teaching and Learning is “Teaching Through Civic Engagement: Doing Good Well.” Guest speaker Elizabeth Hollander, a national leader in civic education and founding director of DePaul’s Egan Urban Center, will give the keynote presentation. An interactive student panel and round-table discussions will follow. This forum is sure to inspire attendees to implement civic engagement initiatives in their work with students and allow them to connect with potential partners for projects.