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This summer there was an article in Inside Higher Ed about an anthropological study about why faculty do not always want to embrace innovative teaching methods: they do not want to appear to look stupid in front of their students.

I can understand this. Of course I don’t want to look stupid in front of my students, either. I have posted on this blog before about being wrong and how to handle questions I don't know.

But I think there is a way to re-frame this. If something goes wrong in the classroom - if we do try something new - and it doesn't work out, can't we explain the failure as part of the risk of growing? That things don’t always go right? That, to me, is modeling what I want my students to do: Take Risks! Try that new course you know nothing about!

Last fall, I tried a completely new experiment by taking my introductory survey course and making it a blended class, half online and half face to face. I spent the first day of the class explaining why I was doing it: what I have learned from study of literature on technology and education, on student pressures to graduate on time, and my own experiences teaching in an online environment. They listened and were glad I tried something new. There was a point mid-semester where one part of the course was NOT going well and we had to have a conversation and a correction. They appreciated that, too. Did that make me look stupid? I don’t think so.

Shouldn’t we work to model those very traits that we want students to embrace?

I hear all the time that our students at my college aren’t “risk-takers.” They are not “gritty” enough. They need more “resilience.” We need to have them try new things. I posted about the grit and resilience factor about the college football players that I teach, mentor and watch on the field. They definitely take risks every day.

How often do we as faculty try new things and risk?

I take risks often because I also have discovered through talking to my students, having focus groups with them, and reading the scholarship of teaching and learning, that my students learn more through active learning. The minority of students, I find, learn from lecture-only note-taking. I’m not bashing that method; I am just not content to know that only about 8-10% of my class (if that) learns well that way. If I can get more people learning more consistently and deeply if I change my methods, then I am going to do that. Because it makes for better classrooms and learning. And that is my job: to teach students.

As a result, might I look stupid in front of my students? Maybe. But even if I do, I seem to earn more respect from them because when I explain why I am doing it, they know I’m changing things up for them.

But that makes me human, too. And since one of my goals in every class is to make my class a community, I will continue to take risks in front of my students, letting them know I am doing it, so when I tell them to do it, I can say: I’ve done it, too.

For faculty reading this, why not leave a comment, telling us about the last time you took a risk in the classroom. Or, if you're reticent to do so, why?


This story from September 5th in Inside Higher Ed bummed me out. It's about a professor who "flipped, but then "unflipped" his class. But in my opinion, he did it all wrong.

First of all, taping long lectures isn't ideal. It is way worse to watch a thirty minute video alone in your room than being there. And I can't tell from this short piece if the instructor had them come to class to apply the information. But it's clear that he thought watching a long video lecture was the same as being in class listening to one. It's not.

Flipped classes can work if you have students watch some lecture segments, short, broken up, to get specific pieces of information. But it is then imperative that they then come to class and do something with it. That way, you can see if the students have understood the concepts by asking them to apply it to new contexts and situations. But just giving them the content and stepping away (which it is not clear this professor did, but it sounds like he did)? That is not an effective way to flip a class.

I have flipped my western art survey part one and now teach it in a hybrid manner, meaning that students watch videos online on works of art about which in the past I would have lectured. The ideas in the Standard of Ur are just as clear from Smarthistory/Khan academy videos as what I would say. I really don't have anything innovative to say about that work for an introductory level class.

But what makes the class work, and what I bring to it, is to come up with assignments in which students apply the information to a new context. This is what I, as the instructor, bring to the table that is innovative and can't be replicated as easily online. So, this year, my student will learn about the art of the ancient Near East and Egypt, and then design a digital exhibition. During the unit on Greek and Roman art, when we are in class together, they will take part in a structured debate that will take two full class periods and time outside of class to decide if the Elgin/Parthenon marbles should be returned to Greece.

What we do in the face to face class should be something that can't be easily replicated in an online environment. The hybrid format of classes allows more flexibility for students to learn factual information on their own time. Then we do meet as a class, I can lead them in something that is more active and engaging, and allows me to see how well they understood the content.

How might you shift your teaching so that your in-class time is devoted to making sure students understand the material rather than lecturing to them?