Text Books are Resources, What’s that mean?

What kind of Teacher do You want to be: One that jumps in the pool and teaches or the One that Lectures at the student?

I recently interviewed several people for adjunct faculty positions. Usually, after I give my spiel, I ask, “What do you think about textbooks?” Most people look at me a little quizzical trying to figure out how I want them to answer. So I almost always follow it up with, “No, really, how does the textbook fit into your class? There are no right or wrong answers.” I then ask, “How do you feel about Powerpoint?” They again look at me like I am asking the all time most stupid question and giving me a look of, “doesn’t everyone use the textbook and the textbook’s Powerpoint?” To which I jump in, before they can answer, and add, “We want you to be creative. Your goal should be to get the students excited about learning- about the subject matter that you are passionate about. How exciting is it to read the textbook and then read the Powerpoint of the textbook as you recite each word as if you made it up yourself. Tell me how you make learning fun?”

If I have lost them at this point, they quickly throw out words that they have heard. This is where it gets difficult because many people in higher education know the hot button words of the day, but they do not know how to implement them. They know that students learn by doing, but they don’t have the creativity to create the doing activities. Where do I get these ideas, you ask? I would love to take the credit for all my ideas or say, “Oh, I make them up!” But, that is just not true. There are so many resources out there to teach us how to challenge our students by true hands on activities.

Where I start first is in my own law practice. I think about why I became a lawyer and all the fantasies and stereotyping and assumptions I made about being a lawyer before I was a lawyer. I ask the students what their ideas are about an exciting class or an exciting subject. Most people have a glorified idea about what lawyers do. I just play off these ideas and let them be a lawyer for a day (at least in Business Law that is the plan).  I also think, “Maybe, they will go to law school later or be a paralegal. What skills can they learn to work in a law firm through this course.” I teach them those skills, as well.

I also read a lot. I read all the books on what the best teachers do, how to flip a classroom, how to do team based learning… oh and did I mention I watch others teach! I see what I want to adopt and what I say, “Wow I don’t ever want to do that!”

I also remember my favorite classes… and try to forget the most boring classes of all time!

There are so many places to learn better teaching techniques.

But, by far the best place to learn to teach is to take risks and experiment. Always be willing to admit failure and go back to another way. However, a word of caution here-  you must give it time to sink or swim. Don’t just jump in prematurely and save a sinking ship. I taught all my kids to swim by staying close by, gently talking them through it, and only jumping in when they really needed the help. They all swam by age 4. You can do it and so can our faculty!


p.s. I do love textbooks, but I think they are a resource and not the source…

And I am not against the PowerPoint, as long as they are short and sweet or printed out and used as a workbook… I especially love moving animations (turn the powerpoint into a moving story)


9. Week 2: Good and Evil (Night Class)

Class Agenda:

  1. Welcome and review (with Clickers)
  2. Pre-Test (with Clickers)
  3. Define Evil
  4. Introduce: Good People Being Evil in 2 Experiments (Milgram and Dr. Zimbardo)?
  5. Present day Evil (Abu Ghraib Prison)? Same or different from experiments?
  6. Challenge: PETA v. Matadors: Is Bull Fighting Evil?
  7. Presentations
  8. Wrap Up- Has your definition changed?

There are currently 16 students in the course (after the add drop period has ended). Last week only 15 students were present and 1 missing, so each island contained 3 inhabitants. This week, I walked into the classroom and noticed Cyber Island had 2 milk shakes sitting on their table sitting far from the 2 students present. I asked, “Are one of those for me?” They said that they were recruiting new members to their Island.

Additionally, before class each student must cast their VIN diagram vote. Today’s question was, “Do you think People are evil, Is it a force, or both?”

Cyber Island

Cyber Island was originally made up of two students. They quickly realized that in order to win the “Most Ethical Island Award” they would need to even out the groups and recruit one more student. They proceeded to the MA’s Island and asked their 4th inhabitant to consider joining their group. She did agree and moved over.

This week all teams were even with 3 inhabitants, but Cyber Island knew a student was missing the previous week and had a plan. There were 2 inhabitants sitting in their seats on their island when I walked in. The 2 milk shakes were sitting all alone across the table where 2 other students could sit.

The new student arrived and began to sit at the closest table to the entrance. The 2 Cyber Island inhabitants started to eye the new student, so I intervened. I asked her to pick another table to sit at (without sending her straight into their trap). Quickly the 2 Cyber Island inhabitants waived her over and offered her the milk shake. Cyber Island now had 4 inhabitants and the possibility to earn an extra 50 points each week (25 if the new inhabitant did her homework and 25 if she did her Journal). I pointed out the possible issues involved in adding an unfamiliar person to the island, but they figured they would take the chance. All this happened before the class began.

1. I introduced the class using 5 question

  • How do you get an A in HUM110: Ethics?
  • Are you happy with your island mates?
  • Does the Most Ethical Island Award factor into my grade?
  • What does the Most Ethical Island Award do for me?
  • What percentage of my grade is based on the Ethic’s Officer?

I cleared up any misconceptions about the division between the student’s grades and the accumulation of Most Ethical Island Awards getting them out of taking the final.

2. The Pre-Test:

I next used the clicker technology to give them a 26-question quiz on ethical theories, ethicists, and fun vocabulary like eudemonia. The clicker technology then graphed the results and demonstrated that the students on average scored between 30% to 50% accuracy.

Partially, I needed a starting point to see what they knew. Partially, I wanted to reiterate that this class would be about learning some deep theories and such. I think both were achieved.

3. Define Evil

Each group was asked to discuss and define “evil.” Many definitions were about “bad” or “unacceptable” behavior. A few added that it might be possession by something or a disorder. Most agreed that even if it was one of those things, the person who commits bad acts should still be held accountable.

4. Introduce: Good People Being Evil in 2 Experiments (Milgram and Dr. Zimbardo)?

The students then watch short video clips on Milgram’s electrical shock experiment that tried to see if “good” people would do “evil” things if someone else took responsibility for their actions. The second film, “Quiet Rage,” was Dr. Zimbardo’s prison experiment.

The student’s reaction to this was curious. Overall, they agreed that if this were real life, it could be considered evil. Except that, it was not real life and therefore cannot be considered evil because it was “acting.” I asked if they thought this could be real? Could they be in a real life Zimbardo Prison and they did not think so.

5. Present day Evil (Abu Ghraib Prison)? Same or different from experiments?

I then introduced them to Zimbardo’s prison in real life. They still found distinctions and were not completely willing to give in that there was “evil” occurring. They could not separate the act from the person even though they predominantly voted that evil was not the person, but an act.

6.Challenge: PETA v. Matadors: Is Bull Fighting Evil?

The Challenge (which would earn them weekly points not for their final grade, but for The Most Ethical Island Award of the day) was to step into the shoes of both sides of an argument and accurately give each side’s argument. They were forced to assume PETA thought bull fighting was evil and that bullfighters thought it was not evil. They researched and then created their presentations (PowerPoint and Prezi) in about an hour.

7. Presentations

The teams were then asked to present and each other team was to score them on a 1-5 rating system for 4 categories. 5 is best and 1 is worst.

  • Define Evil
  • PETA’s view
  • Bullfighter’s view
  • Overall presentation appearance

The students voted and the 2 teams I thought would win (Cyber Island or Smiley Island) did not.

The Smiley’s Island

An interesting perspective came from this island. I was called over and the team (which only had 2 inhabitants tonight) asked, “Do we need 1 definition for evil?” I asked how many would they like and why. The inhabitant answered, “Well it seems like the matadors and the PETA people might define evil differently and therefore we need 2 definitions.” I was quite impressed and said, “I only asked for 1 but I see your perspective. You can write 2 definitions.” Later, during the presentation, they only presented 1 definition and I was very disappointed.

8. Wrap Up

The students were sent home to finish watching the 3 videos and asked to discuss them in an online discussion in Moodle. The students were also asked to do their Life Application. The Life Application this week was to list a time when they were (or acted) evil and a time when they were good. I got many confessions. I am surprised by the openness so far. 1 student claimed he had never do anything evil- interesting…

Using Games in the Classroom

I recently watched a video advocating the learning through games in the classroom. I was already a believer, but was even more inspired to incorporate games and fun. There are several board games and powerpoint games. The only red flag is: focus on the learning and not the game. I don’t want to just be F-U-N. I want to educate my students. I do truly believe games, competition and other techniques can enhance the learning environment. Next week I will use clickers and incorporate games. I’ll let you know how it goes… Check out some of the links!