Have a Question?

If you have any question you can ask below or enter what you are looking for!

Large Introductory Course is Engaging and Fun—Even After Ten Years of Teaching It

teachingtimes-header

Twice a week, 200 students, ranging from freshmen to seniors and coming from diverse disciplines, pack the large auditorium in Frick Fine Arts Building to learn about world art.   Because many of the students take Introduction to World Art to fulfill the University’s general education requirements, they begin the semester with little background knowledge and, on occasion,even less enthusiasm. For Gretchen Bender, a History of Art and Architecture professor who is passionate about sharing knowledge from her field, teaching survey courses presents unique challenges.  However, in more than ten years of teaching the course, Bender has developed approaches that make the large introductory course “engaging,” “fun,” and even “liberating” to teach, for herself and—she hopes—for others as well.

“Instead of having a tug of war between you and your students,” Bender says, “think of it as an experience for you to isolate certain moments, concepts, issues, and concerns in the discipline that would be interesting for both you and your undergraduates to explore.” Like many instructors, Bender initially wanted to cover as much content as possible; recognizing that a coverage-oriented approach was counterproductive, however, she finds herself continually striving instead to “pare it down.”   She advises faculty to “Let go of any anxieties about having to cover everything. Instead, focus on what you want students to come away with. Students are likely to get dizzy from a preponderance of information.  Allowing them to go into more detail and depth helps students to really appreciate the distinctions.”  Rather than sharing fifteen representative examples of a period of art, for example, she shares only two or three; and in a fifty-minute class she limits herself to introducing only five key art objects or sites.

Noting that “big auditorium classes are more prone than others to dullness,” Bender enjoys making the course “interesting and relevant to everyone, even to those who had no interest in art history.”  She is alert, for example, to methods of strengthening more broadly relatable global content.  She also advises bringing in a research assistant who can contribute their specific area of expertise, as she has done with a specialist in East Asian art.

Bender views class meetings as “opportunities to bring into play ideas that illuminate the field in a way that is liberating, rather than confining.”  She may compare and contrast ancient Greek sculpture, for instance, to the practice of tattooing bodies in the South Pacific, in an effort to encourage students to consider cultural variations in artistic approaches to the human body.  Some of the most useful boundary-crossing juxtapositions open multiple avenues for discussion.  “The juxtaposition [of Greek sculpture and tattooing in South Pacific] also allows us to talk about things like how we define civilization, insofar as most representations of the tattooed body were rendered by European artists.”

According to Bender, clarity of expectations is even more important than content.  To accomplish this she spends a significant amount of time outside of class “to make it less arduous for everyone.”  She also emphasizes that, “Complete organization is crucial, even more than in a smaller class.”  She provides a clear syllabus, clear indications of where to locate course materials, and clear expectations for final grades.  In addition to housing materials in a central location on CourseWeb, she also shares a weekly handout, which organizes content cognitively, and which she says is essential for navigating the course.  The handout lists all course details, including questions, issues, and a rough outline of content to be covered.  She also uses CourseWeb to post PowerPoint slides in advance, especially important because the content is visual in nature.  Finally, Bender revises and reviews her lecture notes sufficiently prior to each class, regardless of how often she’s taught the material, so that she can share details and examples “off the cuff,” while at the same time remaining on track, avoiding the temptation to allow enthusiasm for a topic to distract her from the class objectives.


MARCH 2012

Contents:

Strategies for Teaching Large Classes
Read Article >

Students Participate in Large Chemistry Classes
Read Article >

Large Introductory Course is Engaging and Fun—Even After Ten Years of Teaching It

Teaching Fellow Shares Ways to Engage Students in Large Class
Read Article >

Losing the Lecture: ACIE Project Proposes Solutions for Student Learning in Large Lecture Biology Classes
Read Article >

Bold New Learning Activity in Biological Sciences
Read Article >

Baranger Award Winner Applies Clinical Training to Her Classroom Teaching
Read Article >

The Next Class: Think-Pair-Share
Read Article >