How does a session of your class differ from the chapter in the text?

Imagine filling your washing machine with a whole box of detergent. That’s what my mind has felt like lately. I’ve been thinking about little questions which have lead to bigger and bigger questions.

When I was an undergraduate, I viewed each course as a collection of topics to be mastered, leading up an understanding of a whole which was more than the sum of the topics. Each topic was explicated by one or more chapters in the text and one or more class lectures. There was a certain amount of overlap between the text and lectures, which I perceived as a good thing, since it increased the likelihood of my comprehending the topic.

In an earlier posting, I observed that many students do not seem to see it that way, instead treating course texts as substitutes for class lectures.

As Gardner graciously observed,I recently published a book on research methodology. This poses a dilemma for me, since the book grew out of my lecture notes for my course. I want my students to read the book since it contains “my best thinking on the subject.” (More on this point below.) I also want my students to attend class because I think attendance reinforces the material in the book. So how do I differentiate the two? How do I persuade my students that there is value in both reading the text and attending the class? How do I make students see them as complements rather than substitutes?

I first began to think about this question a couple years when I attended a workshop presentation by Dave Collander, whose work I have long admired in part because he believes that one’s teaching should be taken as seriously as one’s research. Collander is the author of an introductory economics textbook and in the workshop he described how he teaches his own course. At the beginning of the semester he tells his students that the text contains his best thinking on the subjects covered and that they should read the book before each class. His class sessions consist entirely of his asking for questions from the text, after which he gives a quiz on the material.

Now my course is very much a skills course so using Collander’s exact approach wouldn’t be quite right. So what to do?

My tentative answer is to use the class sessions as a sort of laboratory experience to practice doing the things described in the book. I plan on writing more specifics about this in future posts.

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