Connecting Class Activities with the Duke Experience

students in library

A common problem with faculty across academia is getting students to see how the work they’re doing in a particular course is connected with the other work they do at the university, contributing to their larger learning experience.

Both faculty and students can become so distracted with the day-to-day minutiae of courses – assignments, tests, grades, class activities – that the larger goals of what happens in the class can be forgotten.  Students might only think about how their classes are integrated when talking with their advisors and planning what courses they’ll take in the next semester.  Even then, they might not realize how individual activities in a course are a part of their larger development in a major or as a liberal arts university student.

Campuses have been looking at the big picture of how courses comprise the undergraduate experience through Integrative Learning, planning majors and programs of study that cut across disciplines and encourage students to make new scholarly connections in different areas of study.  The Association of American Colleges & Universities has some sample case studies that are good thought pieces for this type of departmental and programmatic planning.

But what about your individual course?

The University of Hawaii at Mānoa’s Writing Program offers some concrete suggestions that could enhance your own classes with student self assessment.Their suggestions include having students attach an “author’s self assessment” to each writing assignment so that they can examine the steps, problems, and strategies they use in creating an assignment. Faculty also have students look at what they’ve learned about writing in other courses and how their writing experience in the current course have informed how they write now.

These basic prompts and class activities could be easily adapted to higher level courses with reflections on scholarly research, writing, or different types of educational experiences, such as higher-level research or lab and experimental activities.

Jim Lang, a professor at Assumption College, suggests three activities that could be used to prompt students to think about their development in a course.

The “commonplace book” is a kind of “diary and scrapbook” used by early researchers to save passages, clippings, notes and other materials. Lang suggests that a modern equivalent using tools such as Box or Evernote could help students reflect and make connections on their work in a course or program of study. (In a sense, the “commonplace book” includes the rough components that could be turned into items in a student portfolio.)

Lang suggests using activities with social media in courses, getting students to post ideas, articles or research, then periodically having them highlight social media items in class.  He also uses what he calls a “minute thesis,” a short essay activity using a specific prompt that urges the students to make connections between the different assignments in the course.

Julianne Hazen, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Niagara University, suggests strategies for getting students more excited about core courses in the curriculum – getting “insider perspectives” from guests in the course and conducting site visits.  Both can be useful for helping students understand how your course fits into the bigger picture of their later studies or their eventual career.

There are many ways to challenge students to step out of the day-to-day work of your course and excel in deeper and more meaningful ways.  Consultants from the CIT are happy to talk with you about the goals for your course and department and brainstorm activities.  We can also facilitate dialogue within your department with custom workshops and seminars on this or other topics.

Further reading


Randy Riddle

Author: Randy Riddle

Randy A. Riddle consults with faculty in the Humanities and Social Sciences on integrating technology into teaching. He has been a CIT consultant since 2000. His professional interests include e-learning, social networking, online productivity tools, video and multimedia, and visualization. Randy’s current work includes management of the CIT’s Faculty Fellows program, consulting on Coursera course design and exploring areas such as e-textbook authoring. His other interests outside of work include restoration of vintage recording formats and broadcasting and film history. He volunteers for the Old Time Radio Researchers Group and maintains an ongoing blog on radio history research.