Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The BIG Question Syllabus

As faculty and campus academic leaders search for ways to ensure learning success and outcomes, the notion of big questions, deep learning, and high impact courses is all the buzz on college campuses. BIG questions are not new, Socrates asked big questions and the Socratic Method has been a successful pedagogical approach used by many across nearly all disciplines. Barbie Honeycutt recently conveyed an approach whereby faculty may stimulate students to read and engage with the syllabus. The Honeycutt (2012) strategy claims to stimulate discussion, create curiosity, and assess students' knowledge on the first day of class. Honeycutt proposes that faculty construct big picture questions around each of the learning outcomes contained in the syllabus and chunk related ideas.

Perhaps you might be teaching a course on Media and Politics and one of your course learning outcomes is for students to be able to discuss current issues in political science that are informed by popular media and scholarly sources. As you review your syllabus, Honeycutt would ask professors to construct BIG questions to facilitate learning. In the example above, one might consider asking students to address the question: “What are the differences (include strengths and weaknesses) between sources of popular media and sources of scholarly evidence?" After you write the first BIG question, go ahead and write additional questions for each of the learning outcomes.

The second step to this approach would involve reviewing the syllabus and expected outcomes, looking for areas that are related where one might embed a discussion. For example, in a Media and Politics course, one might find a relationship between an assignment on writing a scholarly paper and the distinctions between sources of popular media and sources of scholarly evidence. How might the professor draw-out correlations and discussion to hone thinking? The idea is to chunk together areas of relatedness and develop questions that will demand that students wrestle with vague ideas and make sense on their own with the guidance of the professor. The key is to get students to think, work through problems and make sense of the larger questions. Good Luck as you enhance your next syllabus with BIG questions.


Dr. Barbi Honeycutt is the Founder of Flip It Consulting, which is designed to help presenters, teachers, and managers reverse the design of "traditional" presentations, classes, and meetings. She also serves as an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy, Adult and Higher Education and the Director of Graduate Teaching Programs at NC State University.

Source: Faculty Focus (April 16, 2012) A Syllabus Tip: Embed Big Questions.

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