Initial Publication Date: January 16, 2007

Jeff Johnston

Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University

Jeff Johnston

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?

As a teacher, I am interested in developing my skills to engage students in class content with the goal of increasing student learning. Clearly, consideration of student attitudes and motivations is important (and under-appreciated) to effectively engage them in course content. My experience has been that instructors focus almost exclusively on the cognitive domain and thus miss the opportunity to engage students more broadly. While engaging in the cognitive domain works for some students, the majority of students are left out by this traditional approach.

In addition to the specific goals related to my own course discussed in the essay, I am looking for workshop outcomes that can help in my day-to-day interactions with instructors in the geosciences and beyond as they struggle to incorporate the affective domain into their teaching.

Another goal I have for the workshop relates to assessing learning in the affective domain. As part of a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) re-accreditation process that Vanderbilt is currently going through, each department is being asked to prepare documents demonstrating meaningful student learning outcomes. I will be working with a number of science departments during the spring semester and would like to be able to advise them on measuring student learning in affective areas as well as cognitive areas.

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?

In my role at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching (CFT), I think about student learning on a daily basis. I work closely with faculty and graduate student instructors from across the university on a wide variety of teaching issues (e.g., course design, understanding student evaluations, gathering student feedback, offering workshops on wide variety of pedagogical topics), and through these experiences I believe that I can make substantive contributions to the workshop. My position at the CFT also means that I will be able to broadly disseminate workshop outcomes to many in the Vanderbilt community. I have also struggled with incorporating the affective domain into my own teaching (see essay) and so will make contributions based on personal experiences as well as through my consultative role at the CFT.

Essay: Meeting the learning goals with a below average course

During the fall 2006 semester I taught a first year writing seminar entitled "The World's Oceans in the Global Environment," a course designed to introduce students to important topics in marine science in the context of Earth systems science, as well as key issues in ocean policy (e.g., fisheries, implementation of marine protected areas, etc.). As a writing seminar, most student work during the semester was in the form of writing assignments.

Information from a variety of sources (performance on assignments and the final exam, comments written on the last day of class, and feedback provided by the college administered course evaluation and the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) survey at the end of the semester) indicates that students made significant gains in their understanding of Earth system science, particularly the workings of the marine environment. They are also much more aware of the current threats to the world's oceans and understand some of the implications of these threats to human society. Information from the above sources also indicates that the writing and information literacy goals of the course were largely met.

Despite these successes of the course, overall the students rated the course below average and rated my effectiveness as an instructor in communicating with the class and in stimulating their interest in the material below average (< 3 on a scale of 1-5). I knew going into the semester that motivating students to prepare for class and then to engage them in meaningful discussion would be a challenge, and indeed that was my biggest frustration with the course. Results from the course and SALG evaluations show that it was the student's biggest frustration as well. I am very interested and enthusiastic about the course topic and so I'm disappointed that a number of students were bored by me and the course. It is clear to me that my inability to engage students in the affective domain played an important part in the low student satisfaction.

I hope to teach the course again next year and I need to figure out how to significantly increase student satisfaction with the course. I see paying greater attention to the affective domain as a critical piece in improving this course.