Explore Strategies - Enhancing Education - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students’ background knowledge and skills vary widely.

The course is offered as a summer course and attracts students with radically different skills and motivation.

Many summer classes tend to attract students with extremes of motivation. Some students are highly motivated and take summer classes as a fast track to their degrees. Other students take a summer course because they failed or dropped it in a previous semester. The former group might sail through easily, while the latter group might resent having to take the course, or have anxiety about it. In addition, the course might also have some pre-college students who, while capable, might not be used to the work ethic expected in college. All courses have students with varying degrees of motivation, but concentration at the extremes is what makes this kind of class difficult to teach.  Of course, this difficulty is compounded by the challenge of condensing a whole semester’s worth of material into six weeks.  On the plus side, summer classes are generally small.

Strategies:

Offer individualized help.

Teach a mastery-based course.

Use an Open Learning Initiative (OLI) course if available.

Consider your priorities.

Offer individualized help.

Because summer courses are typically small, you can offer individualized help to students who need it, if appropriate.

Teach a mastery-based course.

In a mastery-based course, students are not advanced to subsequent learning objectives until they have demonstrated mastery of the current one. Therefore, students progress at an individualized pace through course materials. Advanced or motivated students may demonstrate proficiency much more rapidly, and thus complete the course objectives sooner than less advanced or less motivated students.

Use an Open Learning Initiative (OLI) course if available.

If you are teaching a course for which an Open Learning Initiative (OLI) version of the course exists, consider making that available to students. The very motivated can use the self-paced, online version of the course without much support form you. This allows you to devote more time to other students.

Consider your priorities.

Usually, the best strategy is to teach to the median, taking care to offer more scaffolding for students who struggle and extra challenge opportunities for those who excel. But if your class has almost no one in the middle and most people split at the two extremes, this strategy might not work. You might have to revise your learning objectives and face the dilemma regarding the group on which to focus.  In making this decision, you must then figure out what to do with the other half of the class (i.e., provide additional support or offer additional challenge).

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learning principles

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. MORE>
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. MORE>
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. MORE>
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. MORE>
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning. MORE>
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning. MORE>
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning. MORE>