Thursday, February 25, 2016

Throwback Pedagogy. (Tell Me the Big Thirsty Hasn't Died!)

I just came out of a colleague's office and I feel empowered to share the tale.

I'm 27, new to the profession, and scared to death of my students. They hulk around me, crowd me in the hallway. They tell me how they're used to doing things. What Mrs. Anderson told them to do in senior English. What Prof. Goodguy allowed them to for their research paper.

And I usually give in. I'm so focused on getting along and not causing trouble, I'm letting students run over me.

But today I had a revelation. An old timer (he calls himself that) just told me a remarkable tale.

"I'm not a Luddite. I know the Internet exists. I know they Google stuff instead of even using online databases, but once a semester I require all of their sources to come from traditional print journals and books. I walk them like Kindergartners to the library. I show them the stacks. We do a sample search on the 90s era computer catalog. And we take these sources and use them in one essay a term. It's not a punishment. It's not something they have to do all the time. But you'd be surprised at how the old methods teach them stuff they wouldn't get otherwise."

And I'm going to do it. It had not occurred to me. I had very limited use of that type of sourcing when I was in college. But I think of it as one little step. One time I can say, "No, you can't just use Google. Let's go to the library!"

Q: What old school / throwback pedagogy do you miss? What old methods do you hang on to, even though they seem outdated to your students OR your colleagues?


  1. I dislike Powerpoint greatly. I do a discussion-based class where I lead them to give me the right answer, and then I write it on the board. With chalk.

    1. At my place, they took away the chalk in favor of dry erase. I miss the chalk. I miss it's texture, I miss how it would make me sneeze, I miss the feeling of satisfaction of being completely coated in chalk dust after an especially vigorous class.

    2. At my place, they took away the chalk in favor of dry erase. I miss the chalk. I miss it's texture, I miss how it would make me sneeze, I miss the feeling of satisfaction of being completely coated in chalk dust after an especially vigorous class.

    3. Sorry, I know PowerPoint can be the utter incarnation of evil.

      But I HATED chalk.

      Hated feeling like I had to drink a gallon of liquid to counteract the dust. Tired of always having a strategically placed line across my butt. Do NOT miss the horrendously dry skin the dust caused on my hands.

      And always felt a part of me died when I had to erase an exquisite exposition across the board because another section of the same class was about to enter the room ... or met down the hall and chalkboards aren't portable.

      Thanks - I'll use PowerPoints with memory jogging content that link to examples, animations, videos that help expand the discussion.

  2. I think quite a few of my students are afraid of the library. It's big and intimidating, they've never been inside, they don't know how to find anything, or where to check out books. They don't want to look stupid by asking. So I've done a couple of things. I made a library scavenger hunt for one class, to be tackled in teams, which involved finding texts only with scant information. I also meet them at the library for office hours, and I send them up into the stacks to find relevant sources. It may not change much, but at least I can rest easy that they won't graduate from college without having entered the library and checked out at least one book!

    I also take them to a museum, if possible, and I have at least one assignment (in or outside of class) that requires them to hand-write something. It's not the handwriting I'm after, of course, but the different way they think when they're not typing with multiple search windows open.

  3. I assign whole books. Academic books. We read the whole book, and talk about whole books. Not chapters, not excerpted journal article bits.

    I also assign big documents: all of Hamurabi's Code, The second Surah of the Quran, Heian-era diaries, full-length kabuki plays, fifty-page chunks of Chinese philosophers instead of four-page highlights, constitutions, declarations.

    Depth matters.

  4. I miss pencils! I require students to turn in a percentage of their ideas (sketched out concepts) - in pencil! People think differently with a mouse & keyboard. Yes, they complain, but it makes a difference in their results.

  5. I ask them questions, face-to-face. If they have an unexamined assumption, I ask them another question, and another, and another. I think it was Yaro who said he didn't come up with it, but it's a pretty good method.

  6. Graph paper. The internet even has a few places where you can print different styles right to your printer. For a few in-class data analysis exercises, I have students construct a graph and fit a curve by hand. I hope it enforces some thinking-ahead such as the axis scales, values represented by each division, etc.

    1. I have piles of graph paper around. It's mostly for D&D, but we've been getting some math use out of it, too.

  7. My students have to read full-length books, too. And every week they have to produce an MLA formatted response to questions I provide, use a quote, paraphrase. Holy crap but those paraphrase exercises reveal the weakness of their reading comprehension. Shudder. Gag. Gasp.

    The Gog

  8. A: The part where the students learn something.

  9. I'm in an analytic, laboratory science. Most of my labs require graphs, and they are all rigged for analysis by hand.

    "Rigged for analysis by hand" means that I require the students to plot strange things like voltage-vs-inverse-resistance or distance-versus-time-squared so that (assuming they can follow instruction and nothing breaks) the resulting graph is linear in form. Then I make them fit a line (by mark I eyeball), find the slope and intercept of that line (and woe betide any student inattentive enough to use two points of their data for that purpose!), and to interpret the meaning of those fitting parameters.

    If I was really old school there would be both semi-log and log-log paper involved, but I have a tiny spark of pity, so they are spared that.

  10. I run a remarkably low-tech operation, with all physics problems to be written out on paper and turned in while physically present during the first five minutes of class, all class notes to be taken on paper and all electronics off in the classroom, and me writing on the board (regrettably a white board: they took our chalkboards over winter vacation 10 years ago) and telling them what I know, following notes prepared in advance. I learned a couple of technology generations ago (before Blackboard, when we were all encouraged to learn html and get web pages) that when one adopts new technology, one is instantly assumed to add 24/7 tech consultant and troubleshooter to the already too-many duties faculty have, including teach, research, mentor, publish, fund-raise, serve on committees, etc.

    I do make extensive use of our Campus Observatory for my Observational Astronomy class, but then that’s what the class is about. At the end of the semester, the upper-level students, mostly physics majors, do turn in their imaging projects on USB drives, and I copy over the files and return the drives to them after they turn in their final exams---written on paper without a computer, of course.

    What I wish I could have is really old school: leather straps for administering beatings, which went out of style with Dr. Spock in the ‘60s. About ten years ago, a Dean in his ‘50s treated to us to a talk of how he was educated that way, and pointed out that you did learn: and no one was ever late for class, and everyone always turned in their homework, and students respected teachers, and their handwriting even was good.

  11. Students need to be able to construct a bibliography entry (preferably in more than one style/system) from scratch, without the aid of citation engines or "cite this" buttons in databases (both of which have a habit of sprinkling "n.d.s" promiscuously through the citation, among other problems). I have no problem with their using various forms of assistance once they have mastered the art of doing it by hand, but they need to be able to do it by hand, so that (1) they can check the output of the various forms of citation software and (2)(and more important) they understand the elements/concepts involved (article vs. journal vs. database title/name, volumes and issues, likely length of a full-fledged article, etc.).

    I do not in fact do as much of this as I should, but I need to do more.

    I also probably need to refrain from pointing out that I learned this stuff in 5th grade, and had pretty much mastered it (complete with doing hanging indents, footnotes, etc. on a typewriter) by 8th. And at least in that regard, I was not precocious. It's simply stuff you learned to do, mostly by consulting directions and models in Warriner's English Grammar (or, a bit later, Turabian).

  12. Preach, Cass!

    This is the modern version of the learn basic arithmetic calculations BEFORE introducing calculators.

    It boggles my mind how little attention to detail I see in many papers. Then again, when you are relying on World Wide Web sites instead of actual journal article, you probably haven't absorbed some form of basic understanding of citation by SEEING them - in use.

    I want to scream when all I see is a list of weblinks at the end of a paper.
    Or, in their ongoing effort to make sure the students do not actually have to do any of that icky work, the college provides direct links to assigned materials and but also lists them in the syllabus with the category, e.g. Journal, Book, Video, etc. Because they don't actually pay attention, the snowy darlings' reference page is replete with:

    Book: Brown, C. (2013). Something like a text. NY: Publishing House.

    Journal: Smith, B & Jones, C. (2012). An article. Journal of Important Things, 40(1), 23-38


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