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Introductory Courses

Usually, the outcome of a course of instruction is a specific skill or an ability to do or understand something. However, in introductory type courses where the objective is to more or less lay out the breath of a topic, the outcome appears to be not much more than short-term memory of a variety of subject matter. Can you provide some insight into how best to deal with these type courses and how and what to measure during examinations.

Hi Glenn,
Good question. What I have done in the past is to develop a number of case studies or problem based activities that use the introductory material. I do this to get the students to use their basic knowledge base in a way that gets it imprinted in their minds. I am striving for immediate use of newly acquired knowledge. Granted these activities are basic but they do a good job of helping with making the short-term memory part a long term application process. When they are in the next phase of their field they don't have to spend as much time relearning the basics.
In the area of evaluation, I'm looking for both content and application. I construct my tests to assess the basic content, such as formulas, language, or terms and then have questions that deal with application. This way I can get a feel for both the formative and summative content the students are processing in the course.

The instructor must help the student to relate th material to past experience to make it understandable. Also the instructor should strive to show how the student will be able to use the information in the future.

Hi Joseph,
Good examples of applied learning. As the instructor you are charged with helping to build a bridge between past experiences and future applications. If you can capture the attention of the students and help them see the connection you will enjoy much success in your classroom. The students like immediate application of newly acquired knowledge. By using previous experiences in connection with the application learning will be accelerated.


That is the question that all students have, "When are we going to use this in our career"?. Especially math classes, I hear this all the time. I teach an x-ray program where they learn physics. The students are always stating that since we have digital x-ray now how come they still have to learn the basics. I tell them "What if the digital equipment breaks and you have to go back to manual configurations for the x-ray machine". This always gets them thinking that the basics are important and it lays down that foundation in which to build on.

I had to smile!

I hear that all the time in my classes and I find myself giving the same type of answer.

The "basics are important and it does lay down that foundation in which to build on". I teach first classes and am forced to use this statement somewhere in the course for students to understand that they need the basics to continue on on their studies.

In one of my introductory classes, I start out by asking the students why they enrolled in this class. More often than not, the answer is "I have to take this class to pass". Many of the students come in the first day with no idea of what the class is about! This works well for me as a core part of the class is learning about critical thinking, so we can begin with a discussion of why it's so important to ask "why". By the end of the class, I feel the level of resentment for them being there is much lower, and many are actually exited about the curriculum.

I use self study questions in the chapter that engage the student to begin to think of the new field they are getting ready to enter. I reinforce with scenario question and answer discussions.

great ideas thanks

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