How to Teach a Humanities Class Outside Your Area of Expertise
Adjust professors are always being asked to teach classes on subjects they're not experts in. If you're one of them, consider a peer-driven learning model that allows you to learn alongside your students.
As a professor, it's almost too easy to fall into the 3,000-year-old model of teacher/student relations. The instructor stands at the head of the class, educates with impunity, and professes his or her knowledge to a flock of lambs studiously soaking in the lesson. There's nothing inherently wrong with this model as long as all parties involved play their roles. But while every class is going to have a student who isn't involved, it's a whole other issue if the professor isn't all that qualified to lecture on the subject. Yet I can guarantee you nearly every college in America employs an adjunct professor teaching a class outside their area of expertise. Thousands of conversations like the following occur every semester:
Department Head: "So you're an expert in British Literature, eh?"
Adjunct: "It's what I do best, Sir."
Department Head: "Terrific to hear. You're teaching The Beat Generation this year. Study up."
While it's a good idea for the adjunct to at least rip through Howl a couple times in preparation, there's a better option than simply winging it in front of the classroom for a semester. Instead, set the class up as a peer-driven learning environment, a format championed by Inside Higher Ed's Lee E. Skallerup. With peer-driven learning, the professor allows the students to democratically choose which texts to study. The goal is to achieve the necessary student-learning outcomes while also emphasizing that learning isn't just about listening to instructs babble on. In fact, the peer-driven model helps students learn how to teach themselves, which is a hugely useful skill for the world beyond the classroom.
"There is this assumption that our students don’t have the capacity to choose for themselves, that somehow they’ll choose the path of least resistance, or choose the 'easiest' texts. This is where I step in; I craft the class in order to make sure that the students are not only equipped to make the choices, but I also challenge them to push themselves. I give them guidelines, instead of strict edicts. The majority of them rise to the challenge, and while the results can be imperfect, they provide an opportunity to keep learning."
And if the students choose a text you're not familiar with, Skallerup says that you ought to simply join right in on the learning. The peer-driven model emphasizes the professor's role as an educational guide rather than a knowledge source, which fits better with how learning happens in the real world. Take a look at Skallerup's blog post (linked below). It includes links to her syllabi and other writings on peer-driven learning.
Read more at Inside Higher Ed
Photo credit: Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.
- Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
- Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
- The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.
- Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
- Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
- The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.