There are many valuable techniques offered up in the Barkley text, but I found Chapters 7 and 8 to be particularly insightful for my current position as an instructional designer working with faculty.
Chapter 7 set out the goal of (1) expecting students to be engaged in learning and cautions instructors to resist settling for less. I think, if it’s possible, we all need to paint this on our walls, write this on our notebooks, and memorize it so that it becomes part of our daily lives.
In addition, Chapter 7 also sets out the expectation of (2) teaching things worth learning. I am a huge proponent of teaching students lessons that they can apply to real life, skills they can use in a job, and knowledge that impacts their career and life goals. Further, if students understand why they are learning what they are learning, and can tie it to prior learning and make it something that is meaningful to them, the enthusiasm for the subject and engagement in the class material will come much more naturally.
In Chapter 8, Barkley explains that instructors need to (3) be clear on their learning goals. This is crucial, in my opinion, and should drive everything that happens in the classroom (or online learning environment) from the first moment to the last. We all are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and are able to apply the “proper” verbs to objectives, but the process should be so much more than A = B = C. The process of objective setting should involve a clear intention of making those objectives nontrivial, clear, and actionable, as well as meaningful to students. Only then can we design our learning activities and authentic assessments.
I have also had several recent conversations with student which tie back to our class discussion on “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Many of my faculty are almost apologetic about the amount of reading they assign, or the degree of difficulty that an assignment might involve. My advice has been, and will continue to be (unless someone has another brilliant idea – please step in!) to set those expectations front and center. Phrases like: Your reading will be very involved and intense, it will take ___ hours a week, expect to spend time with this project, it will be challenging can set the stage in your syllabus and in your very first contact with students, on the page, in the classroom, or online.
To that end, we as educators need to be clear that students will achieve an academic level or grade equivalent to the amount of effort they put into the class. Using rubrics, the students have a clear idea of what they need to accomplish for an A or a B, and it is now up to them to perform.
There are so many other recommendations included in Barkely’s work, and I look forward to using this text as a reference and reminder in the years to come.