Know thy students [...]

The overarching goal of teaching is not to deliver information to faceless crowds, but instead to cause learning to occur among enrolled students.4 Courses and classroom activities should be developed on the basis of helping students discover and construct knowledge, not on the basis of what the instructor wants to talk about.5 And importantly, to develop successful learning activities, instructors must have some insight into their students' relevant knowledge base, and they must also be sensitive to their students' sociocultural approaches to education.6 Otherwise, instructors risk more than just appearing "out of touch" — they risk developing ineffective educational experiences. Course planning involves predicting the effects of learning activities on a group of students, and to make successful predictions, we must have relevant knowledge about those whose behaviors we are trying to predict.7

For these reasons, experienced teachers advocate for instructors (particularly new instructors) to collect information about their students at the beginning of the semester, either by administering a questionnaire or by giving a short ungraded test that directly measures background knowledge.8 These efforts could help inform instructors about their students' interests, abilities, demographics, and skill sets, and ideally, the remainder of the course would be tailored to the general characteristics measured in this initial survey. (Source)

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