Episode 7: The Purpose of the College Classroom

Guest: Professor John Zumbrunnen

In this episode, we talk with John Zumbrunnen, Professor of Political Science and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning at UW-Madison. John talks about how meaningful learning experiences are grounded in authentic relationships with students, and he provides practical guidance about how to balance the constitutional principle of free speech with the goals and priorities of the classroom.

See the transcript for this episode.

The L&S Exchange Podcast is brought to you by L&S Teaching & Learning Administration and produced by the Instructional Design Collaborative. This podcast is recorded on ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place their nation has called Teejop (day-JOPE) since time immemorial.

Join the Conversation

How did this episode make you think? What’s on your mind about inclusive teaching? Leave us a message on Spotify for Podcasters, respond to a poll using the Spotify app on your mobile device, reply with a comment at the bottom of this post, or send us an email. We may ask to feature your contribution in this or a future episode.

  1. What is your teaching story? How did you come to appreciate being in the classroom?
  2. John speaks about reorganizing his course away from a traditional chronological progression to a conceptual progression. What are ways you have (or might) move through content differently? How has (or might) this change your relationship with your content? How has (or might) this affect your students’ understanding of course material?
  3. How do you build authentic relationships with your students? What are you curious to learn about your students and what might they be curious to know about you?
  4. John states that the purpose of his classroom is not for students “to win” but for them “to learn and grow and gain knowledge together.” What is the purpose of your classroom? Is there a place for this kind of divergent thinking in your discipline?
  5. John shares that it is an instructor’s responsibility to set clear boundaries for the topics of discussion in the classroom to ensure a productive conversation. How do you direct your classroom discussions? How do you set goals for your discussions? How might you use learning outcomes to set discussion boundaries?

Further Reading & Resources

In this episode we mentioned, were inspired by, or wondered about the following resources and topics.

  • Looking to gather and respond to student feedback? Check out the IDC’s Guide to Mid-Semester Feedback and Guide to Interpreting Student Feedback.
  • John’s description of his classrooms as places to “engage with political issues and political argument in something like the shared pursuit of truth” reminded us of the UW-Madison value of “sifting and winnowing.” Learn more about the 125+ year history of sifting and winnowing.  
  • John mentions two recent surveys that shed light on the state of free speech on campus: the 2021 UW-Madison Campus Climate Survey and the UW System Free Speech Survey Report.
  • UW-Madison offers a robust set of Study Abroad programs for students from any major that can help build a sense of belonging for students. With scholarships available, programs are offered in dozens of countries around the world and focus on a variety of areas of academic, personal, and professional growth.
  • What are you reading right now? Share something you’re reading “just for fun” with a colleague! Our IDC staff have recently enjoyed Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, The Guest by Emma Cline, and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Production Credits

Producer: David Macasaet
Associate Producer: Molly Harris
Audio Engineer: David Macasaet
Audio Editor: David Macasaet
WiscWeb Administrator: Molly Harris
Post-Production & Studio Support: Erika Schock
Development Producer: Jonathan Klein
Planning Group: Jonathan Klein, David Macasaet, Molly Harris, Laura Schmidli, Erika Schock, Antonella Caloro
Executive Sponsorship: Shirin Malekpour

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