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Teaching Large Class

Michael Sandel Justice Class at Harvard

In this video recording of Michael Sandel's first class of his Justice course, he maintains a class discussion in a large class of 1000 students.  Notice the following about his class:
  • It is organized inductively rather than deductively, beginnning with specific and compelling examples and moving toward general concepts
  • He engages students in doing political philosophy even before they know political philosophy; they learn by doing
  • He begins with compelling and intriguing questions to generate a discussion even before they have read anything
  • He uses the first discussion as a springboard for the readings rather than the other way around
  • Students have an opportunity to try out their ideas and receive feedback without any "grading" of their thinking
  • Students have plenty of opportunity to speculate--even before they "know" anything
In all of these, he runs counter to the traditional approach to conducting a class, but these approaches are probably largely responsible for his success in fostering a deep approach to learning.  People are most likely to take a deep approach (as opposed to a surface or strategic approach) to learning when they are trying to solve problems or answer questions that the learner regards as important, intriguing, or just beautiful  The problem in most formal education is that learners are often not in charge of the questions--and perhaps rightly so because teachers usually know more and can think of questions that their students might never imagine on their own.  To bridge that gap between the realities of a formal education and the conditions most likely to foster a deep approach, great teachers like Sandel find ways to frame questions in ways that students will find compelling.
Watch the video and make a list of what else you see that might help account for his success in engaging his students deeply.
E-mail your observations to ken.bain@montclair.edu

To explore more of Sandel's course, go here

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