CL1 - FAQs: "I can't cover all the material."













"I can't cover all the material."

The concern that the entire syllabus (or textbook for that matter) will not be covered during the allotted time is a real issue for many instructors. This anxiety is only heightened when an instructor decides he or she wants to try some small-group learning. A collaborative learning approach usually involves setting aside a portion of the class time to let students discuss the material, and in short, "Yes. Using collaborative learning in your course will probably reduce the amount of material covered."

The problem with the above answer is that there are more appropriate questions to ask:

    How much material do the students retain using the current method?
    What type of learning occurs with lectures?
    How much material do I currently not cover with lectures?
    What content is really needed for the next course?
    How much material can my students cover?
SMET disciplines have grown (as have the textbooks) to the point where it is not possible to cover all of the material regardless of the teaching method. Triage and instructor preference approaches are often used to decide what to, and more importantly, what not to cover in a given course. Adding a collaborative learning component may increase slightly the amount of material not covered. Subsequent courses often require only a small portion of the previous course's content providing some "wiggle room" to leave out some content currently taught.

Some questions focus on "digesting" knowledge. Lecturing can create a level of understanding that is superficial (and temporary) since the demands students face just "keeping up" may preclude the opportunity to synthesize the knowledge to a deeper level. The last question ("How much material can my students cover?") turns the original question, "I can't cover all the material." upside-down: It shifts the focus from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered one. An entire text of 20 chapters can be "covered" in one semester and this does not mean that the students learned it.

Hence, there are some options and tough choices to be made when deciding how much content to cover, how much collaborative learning to include, and at what depth the material should be learned. These are not easy questions to answer but they provide a different way at looking at the original statement.

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