Illusion and Frustration


On his visit to IIT Madras, Prof Jeffrey Froyd from Texas A and M University, took time off his busy schedule in setting up the Teaching Learning Centre (TLC) to interact with a few research scholars. The following are excerpts from the hour long interactive session.


The Illusion of Comprehension:

Prof Froyd brought forward the Illusion of Comprehension as the focal point of his discussion. He explained that a student must be frustrated for not understanding everything in the course, otherwise the student is simply not learning.

When a problem is worked out and explained with clarity, the student often mistakes that clarity for understanding. Just because, the student followed it or thought that he did, does not mean he is now capable of working out the solution.

This Illusion of Comprehension asserts that despite the comfortable way in which the student understood or thought that he had understood the problem worked out by the teacher, he will still not able to solve it on his own.

According to Prof Froyd, the effectiveness of the teaching process was replaced by comfort. The feel-good comfort can actually be damaging to the student. This is why frustration is actually important. The student must think ‘Yes, I’m frustrated, but that’s OK. I’ll get it eventually.’

In the process of growing to understand effectively, hope is a powerful contributor. Students while echoing such discomfort, fail to understand that they are actually learning effectively. When the teacher asks the student to go to the board and work out the problem for himself, it might make the student uncomfortable; but he is more likely to learn this way.

Students mistake comfort for effectiveness in teaching. The comfortable way to learn may not be the most effective way.

A good teacher should be able to care for each student individually and make the student aware of that care. He should know his subject well and use his expertise and judgement in picking out options while intelligently designing the course. He ought to engage the student actively and give quality feedback to the students on their performance.

In order to understand effectiveness, the teacher must not simply gauge a student’s judgement, because students are ill-qualified to evaluate effectiveness themselves. Rather the teacher must see to what extent the student is achieving the goals set through the course.

Guidelines for preparing a course:

While preparing the course content, it is important for the teacher to be clear about the things he wants the students to be able to do at the end of the course. Each such learning outcome must be taken and activities suitable to each outcome must be designed to must bring out the student’s abilities.

While designing courses for both undergrads and postgrads, two different sets of learning outcomes must be planned. The students would be expected to learn independently and achieve their set of teaching outcomes.

A teacher gets a real sense of satisfaction from seeing somebody else learn; and this works really well when he teaches only one person. But with a class, the picture is entirely different. Yet at the end of the day, though physically drained, the teacher does look forward to see young minds invigorated.

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