Teaching in the Department of Social Sciences
There are undoubtedly as many ways to teach a given lesson or topic as there are teachers assigned to teach the material. How do you go about teaching becomes the admixture formed from matching techniques to material, drawing on past educational experiences (of the positive variety), involving students in a meaningful manner, and varying techniques to sustain interest–all constituting a brew heavily flavored by our personality and teaching style.
This chapter provides a variety of techniques and some suggestions that you might find helpful in devising approaches that reinforce your teaching style and teaching strengths.
Veteran instructors emphasize over and over again that it is vitally important to provide a unifying perspective on the course as a whole. The problem arises from the fragmentation of the subject into a sequence of individual 55 minute lessons. Imparting to students the unifying themes, integrating concepts, and threads of continuity that ran through the course is an essential first step to tying lessons together in an orderly way. Several techniques can assist in keeping your course in perspective and on an even keel. One of the most valuable is to allow a few minutes for summation at the end of each hour, the purpose for which is the integration of several lessons by means of a short lecture or discussion that synthesizes the key ideas developed thus far. You might want to call upon a cadet to summarize the lesson to see if the main points were grasped. This technique is an excellent feedback mechanism for instructors. At the same time, brief discussion of the high points of the next lesson can be undertaken; this approach will serve as an introduction and as an aid for cadets to study.
The day’s lesson also can be set in perspective by requiring cadets to open their notebooks automatically to the course outline at the beginning of each hour; discussion of the lesson can then follow by relating it to the past lessons or lessons. In the broad outline a sense of continuity can be achieved by including the lesson title and a few points from the last lesson in separate blocks above and below the outline of the day.
Providing an over-all perspective is not only a continuous task throughout the course, but its importance increases during the last few lessons. Instructors agree that review is important not only because repetition helps to drive home major points, but also because an overview of the course helps to impress on cadets the conceptual framework that organizes these points. Finally, just as for the end of the course, so also for the last session of each bloc: time devoted to summation, review, and questions serve a vital, integrative purpose.
Your choice of instructional methods, several of which are listed below, is governed partially by what the students already know and partially by the nature of the subject. Methods can be categorized into three basic approaches, then further broken down into specific forms as follows:
- Discussion Methods
- Lecture and questions
- Case study and discussion
- Seminar (group discussion, under minimum formal leadership in subject for which ready answers are not available).
- Oral quiz
- Cadet presentations
- Role playing
- Computer assisted simulations
- The fabricated outline
- Round table and panel
- Playing the expert
- Written exercises
- Study group
- Special topic
- Case studies
- Instructional television
- Display boards
- Skits, role-playing (for observers)
- Observation of on-site operations (field trip)
Discussion is obviously a common part of everyday life. Informal face-to-face exchanges of thoughts and ideas occur frequently. People gather in groups to talk over their common interests, problems, worries, and joys. They eagerly participate in discussions, presenting their ideas and points of view. Members of families discuss world events and local news at mealtime and in the evenings. As members of organizations and communities, people compare ideas and take definite stands on their own thoughts and the thoughts of others. Because discussion is a familiar and comfortable way to exchange ideas and reach conclusions, it is ideally suited for use in the classroom and applicable to most methods of instruction.
You can use discussion as a means of promoting reflective thinking, generating and improving creative expression, developing sound social attitudes, and increasing abilities to cooperate in group efforts. The fundamental premise of teaching through discussion is that it is more important to teach how to think than to what to think.
Learning I soften more effective when cadets ask questions relevant to a particular problem being examined and when cadets themselves attempt to answer the questions. When the discussion is going well, group interaction tends to be predominantly self-directive and the emotional and intellectual involvement of the participants is at a maximum. Your objective is to help the group use its creative potential. Two tools that might assist you in this task are the problem solving scenario and the skillful use of the questions.
When aspects of a lesson can be fashioned into a problem that deserves resolution, discussion might proceed along the lines of a problem solving sequence.
The ensuing discussion might follow three phases:
- Identification and limiting of the problem.
Problem analysis and evaluation:
- State problem(s) clearly
- Get section agreement
- Define terms
Discovery and appraisal of possible solutions
- Develop causes and effects
- Separate facts and values
- Summarize progress periodically
- Keep number of alternatives manageable
- List pro’s and con’s of each
- Attempt to reach consensus on a recommended solution (always difficult) or at least the criteria for selecting one.
Questions are important in every teaching approach. Your skill in conducting a discussion depends to a great extent on your ability to apply the questioning technique. William H. Burton, in The Guidance of Learning Activities, comments on the difficulty of mastering this technique:
The actual technique of questioning is one of the most difficult and, oddly enough, one of the most neglected problems in teaching. It remains a constant problem for many good teachers. Good questioning requires the ability, native or acquired, to think quickly and easily while facing a class, to shift and change as thought progresses, and to phrase questions in clear and unambiguous terms.
A lead off question can open up the general area for discussion, whereas a follow-up question can guide discussion. Follow-up questions also apply where you want a student to consider an idea more deeply or to explain something more thoroughly, or when you need to bring the discussion back to a point from which it strayed, or when you want to include a reticent student in the discussion.
In terms of variety, questions can be identified as overhead, rhetorical, direct, reverse, or relay. The overhead question is pitched to the entire section to stimulate the thought and response from each cadet. You might lead an overhead question to pose the leadoff question. The rhetorical question is similar in nature because it also spur group thought. However, the professor usually answers the rhetorical question. Consequently, it is more commonly used in lecturing than guiding discussion.
When you want to phase a question for follow-up purposes, you may choose the overhead type. If, however, you want a response from a specific individual, you would state a direst question to that student. An instructor may use a reverse question in response to a student’s question. Rather than give a direct answer to the student’s query, you can restate the question as a challenge for the student to provide his or her own answer. A relay question is used under similar circumstances but is redirected to the group or another individual.
As a summary of techniques for how one habitually can lead fruitful discussions, consider the following:
Generating interest, perhaps by dramatizing the problem or startling the section; instructor enthusiasm is almost is almost indispensable here;
Setting the climate of discussion by creating a friendly and warm atmosphere;
Restarting points in a clear, understandable way that can lead to further group effort, as well as periodically summarizing so as to give concrete expression to progress being made;
Showing appreciation of things said;
Stimulating the reticent into being participants and holding the excessively verbose in check; and finally,
Providing knowledge or expert opinion to expand the cadets factual base on which they can begin to think meaningfully about certain problems.
Several specific techniques for guiding discussion in such an environment are provided below:
By initiating a class period with an appeal for cadet questions, you can often strike an extemporaneous note that stimulates cadet comments and arouses interest. However, questions will sometimes touch on impertinent matters, in which case the reply should be limited. This “play it by ear” approach allows maximum flexibility in the development of the lesson. On the other hand, you may use this time as a routine question period of limited duration preliminary to a more orderly development. At some point in the course it is appropriate to take general questions on the course to date, as well as to pursue review questions.
An instructor can refer cadet questions to another cadet in the section. This method, which is often effective, tends to initiate a discussion in which the instructor participates primarily as a monitor or arbiter while the cadets effectively reach out by themselves. Personal involvement of the student in this way tends to wet his or her appetite for further participation. You should try to get all cadets “committed,” but care must be taken that the discussion stays on course and not too many points are raised at one time. Particular attention must be paid to the means of transition from one point to the next; the intervention of the instructor with a transitional statement or new point can be an effective redirection of discussion.
An instructor can introduce a question or a problem, perhaps keyed to a “discussion question” listed in the cadet notebook, and refer it to the section either by asking for volunteers, or addressing it to a specific cadet. This method tends to start a discussion tied primarily to the instructor. A good “starter” question will, at the minimum, have the merit of defining the problem or raising the issues for analysis. The use of quotations from a variety of sources – speeches of public figures, passages from a philosophical, literary, or political work, or even from cadet writing – has the merit of not only being interesting but also thought provoking in that the quotation must first of all be understood in their relation to the lesson. An example might be the juxtaposition of the following quotations, used to raise the issue of bureaucracy and government:
Yes, bureaucracy subverts democracy.
I believe it is time for us to declare our independence from governmental bureaucracies grown too large, too powerful, too costly, too remote, and yet too deeply involved in our day-to-day lives. Even though there are many things government must do for people, there are many more things that people would rather do for themselves.
-Gerald R. Ford
No, bureaucracy does not subvert democracy.
The legislative programs of administrative agencies . . . tend to incorporate the objectives of private groups and to temper and to modify them in the public interest. Indeed, in many situations of policy parturition it seems that the
bureaucracy is the only participant animated by a devotion to the common welfare.
-V.O. Key, Jr. (Political Scientist)
“Who is right, if either?”
Cadet interest is readily aroused if the subject matter can be tied in with the personal experience or knowledge of a cadet or an officer.
However, cadets usually react unfavorably to a personal experience that is not directly pertinent to the subject. Consider using other officers with particularly relevant experience as guests to participate in discussions related to their area of expertise.
Contemporary public issues and problems, or the news items of the day, often provide an excellent point of departure in practically all Departments of Social Sciences courses. You may wish to make particular portions of the daily newspaper or selected websites a part of normal assignments in order to facilitate such discussion.
Calling upon the students knowledge of history to develop the historical background of a modern issue not only deepens understanding but reinforces one of the basic appreciation’s that a social science curriculum endeavors to foster. Allusions to historical events and drawing analogies between past and present are among the most interesting ways of raising discussion. You should review the history core courses cadets have taken to get a better appreciation of points to which you might refer. Make it a point to consider the age of your students each year and reflect on what they have experienced. You’ll be amazed hoe their experiences differ from your own.
Often, an instructor will find it advisable to lecture for a few minutes on the lesson to introduce additional subject matter, integrate several past lessons, or show how the several standards of a complicated economic problem or method of analysis are interwoven. A good approach is to set the stage for a short lecture by getting the students personally involved, as by allowing discussion to reach an impass – either of point of view or of how to proceed with the analysis. At such junctures the attention of the student turns quite naturally to the instructor, who may then proceed to make certain points, no so much to provide an answer, but to show the way to sensible conclusions.
In this approach an instructor presents a plausible argument in support of a particular viewpoint, with the object of drawing cadets into taking issue with it. Usually, an extreme position is adopted or the case is deliberately overstated to provoke the student, but it is also possible to develop a provocative conclusion from premises and argument that the students have been led to accept. Taking a stand in this manner stimulates recall of data to refute the initial argument, produces an attack on the instructor’s premises and conclusions, and develops a viewpoint contrary to the original one. By this method the different side of a question are raised for discussion in an endeavor to move to a more balanced view. One must remain alert to exploit different student reactions. If cadets too readily accept your view, you could suddenly reverse your view and launch an attack on the “straw man” that they have been led to accept. Should some cadets support your new position when others attack it, your task becomes one of moderating the ensuing discussion.
This approach works very well in subject areas where cadets have fairly rigid, pronounced, or well-developed views. Early in the course such views may be directly challenged; later, when cadets feel that they have learned the “right” answers, the tables can be turned by challenging these answers from a position akin to their early beliefs, thereby forcing them to articulate their present views as well as to note the merit or weakness of their earlier ones. The essence of this technique is getting cadets to commit themselves to an expression of their own way of looking at the problem. Sometimes this expression may be undone indirectly. In one notable case, cadets were asked to list the attributes of a great leader; the responses were recorded and then challenged by the instructor. The lesson was on Gandhi. In another case cadets were asked to list the desirable qualifications of an American ambassador. When several of these had been recorded on the board, the instructor suddenly drew a large X through the list and proceeded to attack the responses as yielding to the “cult of the expert.” In such cases the class can be expected to rise to a vehement defense of views to which they are committed. Usually the “devil’s advocate” method is enhanced by a degree of subtlety and indirection in setting forth the ploy. However, the instructor must beware of being too serious; irony escapes some cadets.
Most classes are centered on discussion approaches, but it is often important to have cadets do something in another format to keep their interest, emphasize the relevance of material, and help them internalize concepts. The following application methods might be considered.
Cadet Presentation A cadet can be assigned a topic, told to outline it on the board, and present a brief lecture to the class. Frequently it is worthwhile to have two or more cadets give presentations on the same subject from differing perspectives. A vu-graph or board diagram that the cadet is required to explain or use in the presentation is an effective adjunct to this method of generating student participation.
Certain subjects lend themselves to simulated situations in which cadets defend one side or another of a given question as though they were actual protagonists; or participate in a particular activity, such as a policy-making body, as though they were actual participants. To be effective, cadets must be able to play the roles assigned with a reasonable degree of realism.
Role playing can occur either on an impromptu basis where no prior preparation is required or on a forewarned basis when students receive advance notice and prepare for their particular roles. The former method tends to demand more resourcefulness on the part of instructors and students. The impromptu technique may be especially useful when cadets have sufficient general knowledge and background to cope meaningfully with the issue. But where role playing demands special knowledge and preparation, advance notification and assignments will be necessary. Also it might prove useful to assign particular roles early in the course. Such assignment should encourage familiarity with particular viewpoints and, hence, facilitate impromptu role playing. However, major disadvantages evolve out of prolonged identification with a narrow or limited range of information and reflective thinking and with the loss of spontaneity and resourcefulness that occurs when roles are assigned randomly.
Here are several suggestions that may assist in making the role playing technique successful:
To break association with the routine method of classroom participation, rearrange desks according to the number of roles to be played and to facilitate more face to face contact.
Use desk signs to designate different roles.
Careful selection of those to play key roles is important. Do not, however, choose the same few every time. At first try to select those who will be enthusiastic, resourceful, and able to express themselves. This example may encourage others to do as well when they are chosen for key roles.
Prepare special briefing sheets for each group in the drama. These sheets should contain special instruction about general responses required and factual information that will assist in developing meaningful responses. Occasionally, you might encourage group interest and argument by slipping some significant conflicting information into two or more roles.
Try to avoid interrupting the drama unless discussion really deviates from the point. The ever-intruding instructor is an obvious and handy crutch.
Role playing can be overdone if used too frequently or if too much time is devoted to it in class. Over reliance may lead to “slapstick” and wasted effort. When it appears that the useful purpose of role playing has been accomplished, you should “cut” the scene and either summarize what has occurred or open group discussion.
One comment about the structure of roles might be helpful. Role playing can use generally either the “inquisitor” or the “one-stand” technique. The latter is a drama where each role in turn makes a prepared contribution. The drawback with this technique is that once each role has made its stand, the person can relax; participation and interest may wane. However, with the “inquisitor” technique this shortcoming is avoided. Each role, even though it may make some prepared contribution, must be continually alert for questioning by the “inquisitor” role. Accordingly, suspense and interest persist.
Most cadets are familiar with the rules of debate, and it is sometimes possible to stage an extemporaneous debate in the section room on some problem pertinent to the subject matter. Instructors have been successful in dividing the section into “sides” and allowing the debate to alternate between individuals on each “team.” A team captain is appointed who is responsible for that side’s opening statement and for recognizing member of the team. Care must be taken in formulating the resolution in precise terms and in such a way that neither side is given a distinct advantage. A10-15 minute presentation period, in which each team confers in round table fashion to prepare its case, and during which the instructor may answer questions, is often an effective way to begin. Such debates also can be planned in advance. Policy questions, framed in a way to highlight the conflict in both ends and means, generally are suitable for handling in this way. During the debate you can act as a moderator and also take notes for your critique. This method also has been particularly effective when the debate has been arranged to pit different sections against one another.
Computer-based simulations and "games" have been used in several Department of Social Sciences courses in the past. These simulations and games create an interactive environment where cadets are required to make decisions and take actions that change the situation and affect the outcomes of the simulations. Cadets can learn a great deal about resource allocation, making decisions with limited information, political bargaining, etc. during these computer assisted events. The potential uses of computers in the classroom are almost limitless, and their use can be an excellent way to bring diversity to the class and encourage cadet participation. Notebook computers can be borrowed from the department computer officers or the Center for Teaching Excellence’s Advance Technology Classroom.
The subject matter can be outlined on the board as the class progresses, with cadets suggesting the outline divisions and titles. Cadets can be used as recorders, while the instructor insists on accurate analysis, selection of important points, and rational subject division.
This method is especially useful early in the course as a medium for teaching study methods, or later as a vehicle for conducting a review on a block of lessons. In a long and detailed lesson, a variation of this technique is for the instructor to fill in the details of a skeleton board outline as the discussion progresses.
Cadets can be called upon to serve as leaders by making them chairpersons or moderators of a round table consisting of the remainder of the class. Similarly, cadets may be appointed members of a "panel of experts" and called upon to discuss certain problems with the instructor or another student acting as moderator and the remainder of the group invited to submit questions and make statements from the floor. The requirements for effective use of this technique are realism and preparation. The classroom should be suitably arranged for the panel or round table, and the purpose of the proceedings stated in an introduction by the instructor or cadet moderator. A cassette recorder can be added to convey the impression of importance. Discussion questions must be prepared beforehand, and it is usually desirable to print these as a handout for the class. The cadets acting as moderators or panelists also should be designated in advance and provided with instructions so that they have a clear conception of their roles.
In long or complicated lessons, individual cadets can be designated beforehand to pay special attention to some question, issue, or other aspect of the lesson as they study it. This technique requires that they prepare the study assignment from a particular viewpoint and come to class prepared to enlighten the section or defend a position according to their expertise. Cadets seem to like this technique because it requires little additional work, and because they enjoy "playing the expert."
Written work done individually in the section room obviously ensures student participation in the class. A written exercise can be performed either at boards or at seats and may take many forms depending upon the subject taught. It may be a problem, or a thought question, or a requirement for a definition, or for the statement of an author's thesis, or for a sentence outline of the main points of the lesson. An advantage of board work is that it gives the instructor immediate feedback on cadet knowledge. A disadvantage is that the cadets have not prepared a document to take from the room to use for future study. On complicated problems consider pairing cadets at the board; this approach reduces tension, plus the cadets teach each other. At the beginning of a lesson in American politics, for example, cadets may be asked to write on the boards their definition of democracy. The point of the exercise may be to produce one or more definitions usable as a basis for discussion, but there may be other purposes, and often it is enough if the question produces an alert and stimulated audience. The written examination is, of course, a special form of written exercise that has a purpose additional to the purely instructional one we are dealing with here.
Study group can be an extended round table exercise that consists of study, research, and a series of conferences, under cadet direction and control. The group usually is posed with a question or problem that requires cadets to decide upon a method of analysis and organization for study and research. A cadet chairperson can appoint subcommittees to investigate particular facets of the problems, and the subcommittees make their reports at a conference of the study group. The cadet chairperson is responsible for the agenda of all conferences and the control of discussion. The desired result is a study group report that analyzes the question and proposes a solution to the problem. Needless to say, cadet initiative is relied on heavily during the several periods devoted to the study group. A careful statement of the problem and requirement, the suggestion of guidelines for analysis, and the provision of a current bibliography on the subject greatly facilitate the work of the group.
The special topic is an oral classroom report that permits the participation of the student in the instructional process. The cadet is called upon to analyze and research a particular subject, question, or argument that the instructor wishes to fit into a future classroom discussion. At the appointed attendance the cadet makes an oral presentation that usually consists of a lecture, answering questions, and leading discussion. In using the special topic approach you might keep the following points in mind.
The topic should be closely integrated with your lesson plan and presentation. A useful tool in this connection is to require the cadet to turn in an outline of the presentation; you can then verify if he or she is on the right track and get an idea in advance what will be said.
It may be necessary to key the student to certain references. In addition, you might provide guidance concerning organization, standpoint, and method of analysis. For example, a special topic on "Russian Diplomacy and the United Nations" will differ in organization and emphasis of subject matter depending upon whether the lesson is on "Russian Foreign Policy," or "Diplomacy," or "The United Nations."
Not any subject connected with the lesson is an appropriate one for a special topic. It should:
Care also should be taken in assigning subjects that involve considerable evaluation and interpretation (unless this is the object, as cadets are weakest in this area). Instead, it is often useful to ask a cadet to present the argument, thesis, or viewpoint of a particular author, and then contrast this view in class with that of the text or some other writer for purposes of arriving at an appraisal of conflicting viewpoints.
- be relevant;
- be within the cadet's capability (might relate to a term paper or other supplemental reading or writing);
- not be a re-hash of the text assignment or a mere recitation of facts;
- probably not be more than ten minutes in length.
The case study method can, and does, make learning easier, faster and more thorough by simulating actual experiences that demand analysis, criticism, discussion and ingenuity for resolution.
A case demands from cadets problem identification, problem analysis and proposed attempts at solution. The case material can consist of an incident or group of related incidents. In general, the technique may be employed as a lesson assignment to be studied, or as a classroom vehicle for stimulating discussion and analysis of certain points in the lesson. When the case method is applied to lesson preparations, the case may cover just one lesson or a block of lessons.
There is a great variety in types of cases. A case may be presented as a complete situation with detailed information, or you may withhold some of the necessary factual information. In the latter variation some cadets will jump in with ready comments. Others will object that not enough data has been given, and thus discussion begins to flow. This technique of "incomplete cases" should elicit good training in weighing of all factual data, in recognizing gaps in evidence, in the phrasing of questions to elicit more information, and in recalling previous lesson material or experience.
Cases also may be of a continuing type that encompasses either several stages in one classroom period or over several lessons. In this type, after grappling with one aspect of a situation, cadets are confronted with a new turn of events or with a solution to the previous situation. This approach adds continuity and the elements of surprise and suspense to a case.
Although written cases that can be reproduced and distributed to each cadet seem to be more effective, a personal experience or story told by the instructor or through a tape recording can be a useful variation. Drawbacks with unwritten cases are that cadets do not have the opportunity to refer to details of the case, and the cases cannot be filed for future use.
Several suggestions for the case technique follow:
In the initial phase of discussing a case it is essential to disentangle the problem or problems. This point may be the most difficult part of discussion. It is helpful before opening discussion in this phase to have cadets write down what they think the problems are. Once discussion is initiated by questions such as: "Do you see a problem in this case? What do you think it is?" the instructor or some designated cadet might write on the board the identified problems. Care should be taken in wording them or else an adequate group understanding of the problems may not exist. This foundation is essential for further discussion.
When a brief case (optimum length one-to-two pages) or verbal case is used in the classroom, cadets should be given about five to ten minutes to prepare for discussion. The instructor should not hurry here because this is the time when cadets are becoming directly involved with identifying a problem. It may take several minutes for some to reach this identification. If discussion starts too soon, those cadets may tend to drift to someone else's point of view and never really identify the problem themselves.
Cases may be written by an instructor (for your own use of for use of all instructors through the medium of instructor notes) or they may be composed from newspaper editorials and articles, periodical articles or excerpts from selected readings or speeches, or cuts from interviews or hearings. One final note on the use of published case study material -- make sure you are in compliance with copyright provisions before reproducing for classroom use.
Audiovisual methods should be used to aid understanding--to assist the student in learning. When you present an idea to students by means of words alone, students must picture in their minds what you are trying to communicate. Psychological research has demonstrated that most students learn more easily through the sense of sight than through any other sense. Try to capitalize on this principle by using visual aids whenever they will help cadets' understanding. If a description, concept, principle, or an object can be visualized, then you should try to get that visualization in your classroom.
Visual aides, especially PowerPoint, do not take the place of verbal explanation, but they help to make such explanation clearer to your students. The advantages of using aids and varied forms of media are many:
Getting and holding student attention
The Military Academy has resources available to assist you in preparing teaching aids, everything from rudimentary vu-graphs to sophisticated multi-media presentations. Professional and technical assistance can be found in the Audiovisual Instructional Technology Division (AVlT), part of the Directorate of Information Management (DOIM).
Instructors use a board outline to show the major points in the lesson and to assist in an orderly presentation (which may or may not be followed, depending on the way the class develops). A useful variation of the standard board outline is to fill it all or partly in as the lesson progresses through student discussion and instructor lecturing.
Here are some tips for using boards:
Print in block letters. Stay away from writing in script; it is difficult to read. Use all capital letters, and print in letters large enough for everyone in the section to read easily (usually two-to-three inches).
Use color. Color helps make your board work more attractive; hence it invites better attention from your students. But do not use color indiscriminately. Color coding on the board, just as color in schematics, is easier to follow, clearer, and more interesting.
Be neat. Neat board work is simply easier to read and follow, more attractive, and a better reflection on you. Neatness only takes a few seconds more, and the benefits of it are well worth the time. Always provide a title for diagrams and special graphs.
Maintain voice contact. When writing on the board, you obviously have to look at what you are doing. Therefore, you must break eye contact. Talking while you write or draw maintains some contact with the class and avoids long silence that may cause student attention to waiver while you are working. It's not easy; you have to practice.
Prepare involved work before class. Some board work is either very complex or requires a lot of time to put on the board. Instead of trying it during class, you should put it on the board before class when you can take your time and be neat. Then cover your work with a shade or some other object until you need it.
A clear map can be a valuable aid in many of our courses. You should check early on with your course director on the stock of available maps. Consult map catalogs (don't overlook the Geography and Environmental Engineering Library as a source) for ideas on how to improve your instruction by using more and better maps, then pursue a requisition through the department supply officer.
If the chalk or dry erase board is the most widely used aid, then running close second (and for some applications more valuable and important) are the projected aids. All classrooms have an projector that can project computer images, most frequently PowerPoint or other computer based programs.
The use of PowerPoint saves time and helps to structure complicated material. Progression is assured both through the capability of quickly and easily changing slides in coordination with the explanation, and through the use of building slides. The complexity of the transparencies can vary from simple words to full color photographs, maps, block diagrams, schematics, etc.
To maximize the effectiveness of the PowerPoint, keep the following advice in mind:
The room need not be darkened, and it should not be darkened at all if possible. However, some colored photographs or darker colored slides, cannot be seen clearly with full illumination present in the classroom. Test it out yourself. Project the picture, then go to the position of the farthest student and determine for yourself how light or dark the room should be.
Check whatever you display for accuracy, neatness, and spelling.
Check to see that your slides are in the correct order
Do not leave the slide on when you are talking about something else, or using another aid, such as the chalkboard you want the students attention focused where you want it
Avoid walking between the projector and the screen - position yourself properly¸
Unexcelled as a change of pace and cadet interest generator (if not overdone), motion picture films or clips can enhance the content of your course. The usual arrangement is to show films on the academic closed circuit TV system, although portable VCRs are available from AVIT. There are two sources of on-hand film and videotape subjects: the AV Services Branch or the USMA Library AV Section. Catalogues of current listings are available in each office.
If you wish to order a military or a commercial film for your class you will have to submit an appropriate request by memorandum to the AV Support Operations Section. You will need the exact film by title/number, the source of supply and the date/time is required (you might want to include a preview showing for instructors one or two days before student viewing.) If you only have a general idea of what you are looking for, consult the military and commercial film catalogs in the AV office.
Television may be one of the most important technological developments in recent years for improving education. Fortunately, the Military Academy was a pioneer in the use of instructional TV and today has one of the best equipped and supported systems on any campus. The advantages of television include:
Distribution - Expands enormously the number of students an instructor in one presentation can reach at a given time
Attention - The TV screen acts as a magnet for attention and with a variety of audio and visual effects to lend interest to the subject, student’s attention can be maintained.
Selection - The capability exists to focus attention on a specific subject, e.g. on a particular area of a map or graph, or a short segment of a longer film or tape, and so forth.
Presence - TV can provide the "you are there" feeling to lend interest and authenticity to a lesson; specialists or authorities on certain topics can be brought into the classroom
Flexibility - The TV monitor is more convenient to work with and around than conventional projection equipment; TV presentations can be integrated easily with other methods of teaching to form an effective lesson "package."
On the other hand, there are limitations to the use of instructional TV, to wit:
Lack of feedback - There are no questions, comments, facial expressions or other reactions from your students on which you can immediately gauge the effectiveness of a presentation.
Preparation requirements - A full-scale TV production requires script writing, script conferences, visual aid conferences, dry runs, camera rehearsals, and taping sessions, all in coordination with the television production crew. Indeed, AVlT uses a planning figure of 6 weeks for a minimal support TV project.
With experience and practice, and with the excellent support provided by AVIT personnel, you can overcome the few difficulties associated with instructional TV, but it will take some effort.
Display boards or bulletin boards are excellent augmentations to our teaching programs. You are encouraged to have in your classroom a bulletin board on which you can display current articles germane to course topics, graph/charts, cartoons, flyers for department activities, and course administrative items (including your name, office location, and telephone numbers.)
Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by USMA instructors relates to the wide range of aptitudes and interests found in the typical cadet section. Advanced versions of the core courses afford some leveling, but in all elective courses and even in the non-advanced sections of core courses you will quickly perceive different levels of ability and academic performance among your students. The matter becomes one of, "If I try to pitch the instruction to the better student, will I lose the less accomplished student?", or the converse, "Il l keep the instruction at a rudimentary level, will the more gifted student become disenchanted ?" Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to the dilemma. Your goal -- elusive at times, but achievable nonetheless - is to offer each student opportunities to reach for his or her highest level of academic capability. The key here will be your own enthusiasm and your ability to get cadets involved in each class. Again, we have no standard answers but here are some ideas to consider.
Adopt a fresh approach to the subject matter that raises the essential points in a way that provokes discussion. For example, in a class studying the determinants of demand, address the demand for pizza in the Corps of Cadets. What would make pizza sales go up?
Be on the lookout for editorials, anecdotes, cartoons, case studies, quotations, and ideas of great philosophers, which have considerable value in gaining attention and provoking thought
In order to avoid monotony, a change of pace should be introduced in instruction whenever possible; e.g., vary teaching techniques, use teaching aids, rearrange the classroom and so forth.
When properly timed and employed, and when in good taste, humor can enliven a listless class and arouse those cadets who tend to doze or daydream. Humorous stories and anecdotes also may bring to rife certain concepts, theories, or personalities that are part of the subject material relevance to the subject is a good criterion of the utility of a joke.
Humor for humor's sake has no place in the classroom. A stock of entertaining stories may make for an enjoyable class, but the cost may be loss of control of your class. Telling stories in poor taste may get laughs but not much else. Cadets are well aware of the difference between a comedian and a good teacher. The proper role of humor is as an aid to teaching. Its best uses are in illustration and attention getting. Never get in a situation where you ridicule a cadet, whether in a humorous vein or otherwise. Also, never ridicule another academic department or the tactical department.
Cadets often misunderstand the difference between facts and hypothesis. When cadets say "labor unions are powerful," they often mean this observation as a fact, although the statement is merely a hypothesis or proposition to be proved, i.e., it must be supported with empirical evidence before it can be taken as substantiated. Again, the test of observation in adducing evidence is sometimes neglected, as when cadets appeal to authority as proof, e.g., "Aristotle said that… ".
Another misconception among many students is the notion that theory belongs to the physical sciences. There are several ways of dealing with this notion, but suffice it to say that while cadets should understand the differences between the natural and social sciences, they also should see that the role of theory is the same in both.
Other cadet intellectual attitudes that pose teaching problems include the quest for certainty, over-simplification, dogmatism, the use of slogans as a substitute thought, and the belief that all problems are susceptible to solution by “doing something.”
Cadets with considerable ability often are reluctant to express themselves in class or to use their talents fully. Sometimes they lack confidence. You can draw these people out in class by redirecting questions at them and allowing them plenty of time to think. They can be prodded gently to give a special topic or book report. Try to show that you are aware of their ability and confident that they can make a real contribution in class. Another technique that may be used is to announce early that you will not accept "Sir/Ma'am, I do not know," as an answer. Insist that when cadets are called upon they at least give you a "best guess."
Some cadets like to lark, but are inarticulate; they express themselves, but do not say anything. Fuzzy thinking and a general lack of comprehension is the main source of this difficulty, though inability to articulate what is understood also contributes. In no case should sarcasm be used to silence a verbose cadet. The remedy lies in sharpening ideas. You will need to become practiced in the "critical art of rephrasing cadet questions," so that by example you can assist a student to say what he or she means. Individual counseling after class, in private, with specific criticism and suggestions for improvements also is helpful.
Discussion may occasionally become an argument, or opinion may shift from an issue to personalities. Sometimes individuals so completely identify themselves with one side of an issue that they consider any criticism as a personal affront. To remedy this situation, you can divert discussion into the third person, or ask each participant in the controversy to restate points on which disagreement exists. This technique tends to focus attention on the issues and away from personalities. A joke or change of mood also can be helpful.
To correct a cadet who talks about something only slightly related to the point at hand, the instructor should try to perceive the "drift" of thought or the linkage of meaning between separate comments and then convey the relationship to the group. Or the instructor may interrupt with a question such as this: "Now, how is your comment related to the points we are discussing; I don’t quite see the connection?"
Sometimes discussion may disintegrate when an instructor is unjustly abrupt with one cadet or completely ignores his or her contribution. This behavior tends to destroy confidence because cadets may feel that the instructor regards their remarks as unimportant and therefore that they also are unimportant.
When talking, you obviously must talk to the whole group. You should search around constantly for reaction to what you are saying. A good deal of communication goes on at the sub-verbal level, and besides, nothing tones up the general harmony of a, group like a good strong undercurrent of direct eye contact. This sense of harmony should encourage group members when they are expressing their own views. Discussion ought to be a pleasant as well as a satisfying experience, and this goal necessitates alteration of mood from the serious, intent pursuit of understanding to a bit of levity, from the relevant to the remote.
This chapter has provided a menu of techniques and some suggestions for you to consider. Take the time to evaluate continuously what works for you and under what circumstances. Be willing to experiment with different approaches and continue to refine your successful techniques Remember that your Classroom environment will be influenced by the students you are teaching at the moment, and what works best may vary from section hour to section hour. Finally, work toward feeling comfortable talking about your teaching style; share and exchange ideas with your colleagues.
Regardless of the teaching methods you select, your techniques must be tailored to the course material, students and your own strengths. Each classroom presentation will increase your self-confidence and the opportunity for further innovation.
The ideas presented in this chapter are clearly not exhaustive. The possibilities are limited only be your own imagination.