See Jane Compute

I’ve been doing some on-and-off thinking lately about teaching (summer is a great time for that, away from the pressure of the school year). One of the things I’ve specifically been thinking about is the idea of “transparency”. I’m curious to hear what you, faithful readers, think/do in terms of transparency when you teach.

So, here’s today’s discussion question, for those of you who teach: How “transparent” are you in your teaching? Do you spell everything out for the students up-front, or do you save the explanations for “why did we just do this” until after the fact, allowing for student discovery? Do you use different approaches for in-class activities vs. out-of-class assignments, or do you use a consistent approach across the board? Do you find that different approaches work for different students, or do you find that students at your institution prefer one approach to the other?

I have some thoughts on the subject, but they are sort of in flux right now, so I’ll defer my comments until later.


  1. #1 Jim Lund
    July 11, 2008

    I teach bioinformatics, a course with a lecture and a lab section. In the lab, I let students work things out for themselves. I don’t have worked examples and I don’t stand up in front of the class and fill & click through the programs being used.

    Some students complain about it. Not in class, but in the feedback forms (of course). But I don’t really see any other way to do it. Nothing is more boring than watching someone else use a computer. “Submit, and now we wait… … and look at this column in the results.” It would be death. Worked examples would be hard to create and mostly ignored–pages of this goes here, the output sections to focus on are here and here and here.

    I explain some things, usually 5-10 minutes per lab–things to pay attention to, the most critical data in the results–the tricky bits. Students learn to use computer programs by experience, and they learn how to find instructions and to closely examine the output by trying things out and struggling to get things to work. If you point to the critical parts right off, students can’t do the work when they run a program on their own, during a test and especially after the class ends.

  2. #2 New Kid on the Hallway
    July 11, 2008

    I always tried to spell out up front the purpose in all the class activities – though I’m sure I didn’t do it in practice as much as I thought I did (that is, it was clearer to me than to the students!). In writing assignments, I always included a “goal” or “purpose” statement to explain what I was trying to achieve with the assignment. For exams, I stated why I give them in the syllabus and didn’t really go back to it much later in the semester (though students tend to take exams as a given). I also always had a big thing in the syllabus (and the first day) about discussion and why I felt it was important and what everyone had to contribute to the class, but again, I didn’t come back to that throughout the semester when perhaps I might have done so. And of course I had overall learning objectives in the syllabus, for the course as a whole (though this was a bit of a problem last term when a student insisted that although s/he’d blown off a huge percentage of required assignments, hir papers demonstrated that s/he’d met the learning objectives and hir grade should reflect that!).

    Of course, this was in the humanities, so no lab activities or the like. Lecture, discussion, lots of variations on the latter (large group, small group, presentations, etc.), papers, exams – all pretty standard. I’ve only had complaints about two specific things that suggested students didn’t see why we were doing them – some students will always complain about small group work, frequently because they think it’s pointless and that they can’t learn from their peers (conversely, other students always praise small group stuff); and some students have complained about daily quizzes, when I’ve done those. The daily quizzes have always been just to ensure people have done the reading, so that we could have effective discussion, and they worked well at Former College and not so well when I did them at my last teaching gig (students got confused, begged for clarification before the quizzes, I ended up going over material we were supposed to test, once they took the quiz they felt no need to pay further attention to that material… it was partly the way I set them up and partly that student population). Former College students usually said they didn’t like the quizzes but understood why we did them; a few would complain though that they got the same scores whether they read or not (it’s kind of hard to come up with equally effective quizzes every single day!).

  3. #3 Karina
    July 11, 2008

    I teach the lab for introductory biology, and I think I err on the side of over explaining and talking too much. I go over the protocol, what we’re doing and why, things to pay special attention to, and at the beginning I try to review (or introduce) the main topic being demonstrated in lab (i.e. photosynthesis).

    This summer I fear I may be insulting my students’ intelligence by reiterating what is obvious if you’ve actually read the lab. Next week I’ll give my students mid-term evaluations to fill out about me so that I can adjust my teaching. I still haven’t ever seen a teaching evaluation filled out for the university at the end of the semester. I don’t know if anyone ever looks at them, but I sure would like to!

  4. #4 Jane
    July 17, 2008

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Jim: I agree that it’s hard to strike the balance between giving them enough info and guidance to make progress, and letting them learn on their own so that it sticks. I do find, with my own students in the labs that I run, that they are more receptive to less guidance and more willing to learn as they go, than they would be if I tried the same thing in the classroom. That is, as long as I provide a brief bit of context up-front: learning objectives, the main course concepts that will be covered, etc.

    New Kid: I think our teaching approaches are very similar here. See, like you, I *think* I’m providing a *lot* of context (certainly much more now than I did at first), and I still feel like I’m getting some pushback from the students. So I’m trying to figure out what it is that the students still want that I’m still not giving them.

    Karina: good luck with your midterm evals! I think they will be very helpful in terms of letting you know how well your “pitch” is going. But it sounds like your approach is a good one—it certainly would go over well at my institution.

  5. #5 tshepang
    March 24, 2010

    still lost my question is why should a subject teach make use of transparency

New comments have been disabled.