“What’s the big IDEA?”

Many instructors have asked me, over the course of numerous semesters, how they can improve their numbers (as shown on page 3 of the IDEA evaluation report) for #11 which is: “Related course material to real life situations.”

Of course, what they are really asking me is what they can do in class to help students understand how the concepts taught in the course are applicable to real life situations. These professors would be delighted to receive higher numbers on the IDEA evaluations, but they truly want their students to get why the concepts taught in the course matter. Number 4 on the IDEA evaluations: “Demonstrated the importance and significance of the subject matter” is related to #11 above and is often accomplished through similar activities.
Tying information and concepts in a course to a future career and to one day living in the world as a global citizen already happens in many classrooms. This connection to career and future social and political life is important. But even when instructors demonstrate these connections, students often lose them or don’t transfer them. What to do? Two things can help:

  1. Make these connections more “real” to the students by asking them to imagine themselves in particular situations in which they would use course concepts to make choices or form opinions. Research shows that examples that include emotions increase the stickiness of their understanding.
  2. Use real life “out of the discipline” examples to demonstrate and introduce course concepts before presenting them within the discipline. For instance, if you are discussing reliable resources, you might ask the students to name four people from their lives who together would give the most comprehensive report on their kindness (or any other trait). Emphasize that the goal would be for the report to me as accurate as possible, not as favorable as possible. Then ask them to come up with four people whose report would represent an overly negative or positive report. Use this information to springboard to talking about the purpose of and knowledge behind different resources. Research shows that examples that activate memories increase the stickiness of their understanding.

I’m always happy to help you design learning activities that fit into either of these categories.

Happy teaching –


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