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What Do We Uncover in Our Courses?

Thanks (again) to Messiah College colleague John Fea for pointing out this interesting article discussing the way we teach our courses. The author, Mark Sample, challenges faculty to think about what we are really teaching our students, and what we really want them to learn. We often think very deeply about what we cover, and how to cover it. Do we give much thought to how we help students to learn to uncover material. How do we think about our course “uncoverage”? Here is a taste:

To highlight the pitfall of coverage as the default model of course design, Wiggins and McTighe recall a more “ominous” definition of the verb cover: “to protect or conceal, to hide from view” (106). They suggest that in the race to cover more ground—more history, more literature, more formulas, more physics—we can end up actually covering or hiding the underlying principles that make those subjects important in the first place. Uncoverage, in contrast, emphasizes revealing assumptions, facts, principles, and experiences that would otherwise remain obscured. Uncoverage is uncovering in order to learn something new. Uncoverage is digging down.

Wiggins and McTighe outline five steps toward discovering depth in whatever material you’re teaching (and your students are learning):

  1. Unearth it
  2. Analyze it
  3. Question it
  4. Prove it
  5. Generalize it

Because steps two through five proceed from it, “unearthing” is a critical first step. Wiggins and McTighe offer a concise explanation of what they mean by “unearth it”:

Bring to the surface and bring to light the misunderstood, the subtle, the nonobvious, the problematic, the controversial, the obscure, the missing, and the lost. (102)

(all emphases in the original)

Check out the original post where Sample explores the idea a little more. He does not, however, really talk about how this would look in other disciplines, such as mathematics and statistics. Any ideas, dear readers? I’d love to hear how this might be applied in the courses that I teach.

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