In a recent article at the Huffington Post, Galanty Miller offers the following "5 Tips for becoming a better college professor":
- No 'Group Assignments'
- Don't have students write papers longer than 5 pages
- Teach within the confines of the classroom, not online
- No "review sheets"
- Go shopping (viz. dress well)
I probably wouldn't respond to the piece were it not for the fact that I've seen so many people share the piece in my Facebook feed, and were it not for the fact that, in my experence, almost all of the advice is wrong! But, since both of these things are the case -- and I fear that some people might actually believe some of the things Galanty writes -- I'll respond. :)
In support of claim (1) ("No group assignments"), Gallanty writes:
The four words college students most dread? "Everyone get into groups."
Not since non-alcoholic beer has there been a more worthless addition to the college experience than group assignments, group projects, and group presentations.
You know who hates 'group projects' the most? The intelligent, 'A' students who work hard and make an effort. Because you've just doubled their workload. Now they have to pick up the slack caused by the jerk-offs who forgot to buy the posterboard and didn't realize the presentation was today. By assigning group projects, you're pissing off the few dedicated students who actually like you.
There's only one problem with this entire line of argument: everything in it is false. ;) Seriously, though, in the three years since I started interspersing my lectures with group assignments, (A) my student reviews have skyrocketed, (B) my students are more engaged, and (C) from my perspective, they are clearly learning more and becoming better students -- and all because group assignments require them to actively do work in the classroom.
Again, Galanty claims that the four words every college student dreads the most are, "Everyone get into groups." Well, about that...Here are just a few examples of student comments I have received in response to the question, "What aspects of your classroom experience (course, professor, etc.) helped your learning most?":
- "Group work"
- "Group papers followed by discussion"
- "Break up of class with group assignments..."
- "In class assignments"
- "I enjoyed the group discussions."
- "Daily assignments and group assignments were always helpful"
- "Group class assignments were extremely helpful"
- "Class assignments were pretty tough sometimes but helped us learn"
- "The group assignments"
- "Class activities required using the intellect and created active involvement"
- "I like that we work in groups on class assignments"
- "Discussions and group assignments"
So much for Galanty's argument against group work. Group assignments can work wonders in the classroom, and if done right, students enjoy them. Finally, a simple practice ensures that everyone puts in roughly equal work in groups: just state on your syllabus that anyone who does not pull their fair share in the group assignment gets their name left off the assignment for zero credit, and actively police it in the classroom. Trust me, it works like a charm.
As for (2) ("Don't have students write papers longer than 5 pages"), Gallanty writes:
There is no undergraduate class topic that requires more than five pages to explain, and this includes the unnecessary long opening paragraph and the pointless closing paragraph, because undergraduate papers have two basic objectives- to strengthen a student's writing skills and to assess the student's basic comprehension of a subject or issue that is generally related to the course and this never takes more than five pages to accomplish, and when you assign an essay that forces the students to write seven or ten or twelve pages, rather than focus on strong writing and a grasp of the topic, their paper-writing goal switches to "filling up enough pages to complete the assignment" and this leads to ludicrously long quotes from other sources, hoping to fool you into thinking the paper is longer than it is by using wider indentations, and, worst of all, run-on sentences that go on and on and on and end up being, like, 167 words long...
Here again, most if not all of this is false. First, good upper-level undergraduate paper on many philosophical topics -- say, the Theories of Justice seminar I taught this term -- cannot be written in 5 pages. Sorry, but no. A paper on Rawls, for instance, will need at least that many pages to simply summarize major parts of some argument(s), and then at least 5 pages of original argument. Second, it is false that "the only aims" of an undergraduate paper are to improve student writing and display comprehension of course material. Um, original, well-defended arguments also are sort of important! And yes, while undergraduates do have a certain tendency to "pad" papers, there is an easy way to deter them from doing so: give them instructions that you will penalize their grade severely if they do. Trust me, it works!
I could go on, but I won't. Online activities can work, review sheets can encourage students to study (and, if you make them difficult, study a lot), and, if you teach your tail off, you can look like a hobo for all your students care.