In describing his experience teaching at West Point, Dr. Stapell started by describing the first rule that West Point teachers are given—you’re not allowed to lecture—at all! …What? Isn’t that what college teaching IS? And wouldn’t you expect a place with such a military history and an authoritarian approach to underscore this traditional teaching method—of having one expert individual lecture and provide information to a bunch of young, dutiful students? They don’t lecture at West Point? At all?
So this seemed surprising to the folks in the audience. And, of course, the next question is begged—what DO they do at this esteemed, larger-than-life institution? How do they educate—how do they create such great leaders?
Apparently, according to Dr. Stapell, this educational method is 100 percent activity-based. The classrooms have boards on all four sides of the room—and all cadets are charged with engaging in activities related to the material throughout the class. Get in a group, discuss the material, write notes on the board—come up with a set of implications for modern life—tell the class about it. You’ve all read about this famous historical figure—discuss as a group his positive and negative attributes—and controversies regarding his life—and give a presentation to the rest of us—teach US about what his life and work implies about how the world operates now. Etc.
In this context, students are constantly engaged and empowered—they own their education. They own how much they learn and how much others learn. How much education will happen within the confines of a given class? This is up to each and every individual cadet—with the professor who is tasked not with teaching them, per se, but, rather, with getting them to teach one another.”