Teach the Earth > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Karl Wirth

Karl Wirth

Dept. of Geology, Macalester College

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What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

How do we teach it? What do we teach? How do we know if we are successful (assess it)? In particular, I think the last question is an interesting one? Is it appropriate to assess the affective domain? If so, how do we do it?

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

I have thought quite a bit about how to make students more aware of their cognitive development and thinking. This includes not only metacognition, but also their attitudes about learning, how that learning relates to the other courses they are taking, other aspects of their life, and their own development. I will gladly share some of the activities that I have developed with others at the workshop.

Essay: Thinking About Learning: Motivating Students to Develop Into Intentional Learners

After attending the Teaching Mineralogy Workshop in 1996 I returned to campus excited about the many ideas for new hands-on activities. I was convinced that active learning was a better approach to teaching and I couldn't wait for the fall semester to begin. My enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the rather lukewarm reaction of some students to my first attempts at creating learner-centered courses. Some students were openly skeptical of these new learning experiences; others were reluctant to embrace the course goals for deeper learning. I was baffled and disheartened.

My early experiences with active learning started me thinking about how to help students adjust to new instructional methods. Initially I began talking with students about the results of research on learning, instructional design, and assessment. The goal of these early conversations was to help students understand the reasons for implementing new pedagogies. In particular, problem-based and collaborative learning can present unique challenges, so I wanted to acknowledge to students that these new approaches could sometimes seem daunting. Importantly, I also wanted to share with my students the excitement that I was experiencing as I learned about teaching and learning. Student concerns about new instructional methods were significantly reduced by these conversations, but it still felt like these early attempts at talking about teaching and learning had little effect on their attitudes or motivations about learning.

Over the next several years I also gradually came to realize that if helping students develop their skills for thinking and learning is an important goal of higher education, then our curricula should address these objectives more explicitly. A recent report by the AAC&U (2002) advocates greater emphasis on educating students to be "intentional learners" who are purposeful and self-directing, empowered through intellectual and practical skills, informed by knowledge and ways of knowing, and responsible for personal actions and civic values. Self-directing learners also take initiative to diagnose their learning needs, they formulate learning goals, they select and implement learning strategies, and they evaluate their learning outcomes. It is commonly assumed that students will develop these sorts of skills, motivations, and attitudes in the course of mastering content, but this is not necessarily the case. In an effort to help students develop these skills, I began introducing a learning co-curriculum into my courses. Developing this curriculum included writing an overview about learning, designing new classroom activities, and incorporating discussions and reflections about learning in all of my courses. These activities not only provide a foundation for developing skills for life-long learning, they also provide scaffolding as students undertake greater responsibility for their own learning. Additionally, students now have a shared vocabulary about thinking and learning, they have a clearer understanding of my expectations for their learning (i.e., that student learning goals should go far beyond memorizing content), and they are more intentional about their own learning. Student motivations and attitudes have changed remarkably with the greater focus on thinking and learning in my courses. Furthermore, students more fully understand the value of their learning and their own development.