Bring on the Collaboration

Getting students to participate in class discussions is a common challenge. Every instructor has faced the dreaded silence after posing a question. Active learning activities can stimulate student engagement, but they can be difficult to implement in classrooms that were designed for lectures –  fixed seating inhibits opportunities for collaborative exercises such as group work and discussion.

Research has shown that active learning strategies can improve students’ retention of content taught in class [Michael Prince. Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 2004. http://ctlt.jhsph.edu/resources/views/content/files/150/Does_Active_Learning_Work.pdf.] A variety of teaching methods – such as peer-instruction, discussion groups, and collaborative problem solving – can foster greater student engagement. Each of these methods requires students to connect, share information, and discuss possible solutions to posed problems, anticipating real life workplace situations.

eStudio-309_2D-finalFaculty who want to implement active learning strategies may find it challenging to manage in a space designed for lecture-based instruction. In the last decade, universities have introduced classrooms to address this challenge. Typically known as studio  or collaborative learning classrooms (CLC), such spaces often have round, movable tables for group work, ample whiteboard space, and large display screens for each group. This learning environment has a positive effect on students’ engagement; it alters their roles in the classroom from passive recipients of knowledge to active participants in their own learning.

At a National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education last summer, several Hopkins colleagues and I participated in group work in a space designed for collaboration. We were impressed by the power of that learning experience. Shortly after the workshop, we learned that the Provost’s Gateway Sciences Initiative would be underwriting the conversion of a traditional learning space (Krieger 309) into a collaborative learning classroom.  I decided to offer my Biology Workshop course in the new CLC in the fall semester of 2012.

The course was designed as a guest lecture series with some meetings set aside for group discussions.  Although we continued to offer the guest lectures in a large hall, we moved to the CLC for the group discussions and were delighted to take advantage of the features of this new space. During a typical class, I provided a 5 to 10 minutes overview of the day’s lesson plan, often using the instructor projectors to play a video or podcast highlighting a current event or controversial topic in biology. For the majority of the class time (30 minutes), students worked in groups using their own laptops to conduct research, discuss potential answers to questions, create charts and other graphics, and post content to the course Blackboard site. For ten minutes at the end of class, groups took turns presenting their work to the entire class, using their team projectors to display their work.

View of collaborative learning classroom - Krieger 309 - no studentsThe room’s design allows students to work comfortably in groups, using tools ideal for collaboration. Each group has a whiteboard adjacent to its table where students can jot down notes or conceptualize and work out problems. Students can easily project their individual laptop screens for viewing by the whole class. In addition, the instructor has control over two large screens, which is helpful when presenting materials to the entire class or sharing a group’s display with the class. The room’s layout facilitates instructor visits to each group while they work, something that is difficult in a lecture hall.

One of the nicest things about teaching in the new CLC was that students seemed toStudents inCollaborative Learning Classroom - Krieger 309 know what was expected of them. Seeing the space they knew the class would not be a typical lecture format, which intrigued them. Moreover, the students responded positively as they engaged in the discussions and participated in their groups, producing a higher caliber of work than I experienced in this course previously.

Students were amazingly “on task” during group work, which speaks to their high level of engagement and enthusiasm. They clearly felt a strong sense of responsibility for their group’s performance, particularly when presenting their findings to the class.

View of collaborative learning classroom - Krieger 309In comparison to previous iterations of this course, the students’ grades were in the same range; however, the level of engagement was much higher and it was a significantly more enjoyable teaching experience. I know that the students appreciated the active learning aspect of the course because when I presented in lecture format for more than 15 minutes, I could see them squirming in their seats.  They couldn’t wait to get started on group work. It has been a challenge to limit my introduction to just a few minutes, and then post supporting material for the students to explore during class with their groups.

Because this class had more discussion and collaborative work than when I previously taught the course, I found that it helped to prepare learning objectives for each session. This kept the focus in place during class and ensured that the group work would meet the goal for the day. It also helped set the students’ expectations for what they needed to accomplish and learn for tests.

A number of faculty have taught in the new CLC since its creation, from the departments of Chemistry, French, Physics, Mathematics, and Civil Engineering. The room is flexible enough for a number of uses and can support classes from any discipline. The way I conducted my course for instance, is similar to the teaching approach for humanities courses in which class discussions are standard. Although the students in my Biology Workshop did not often use the whiteboards, other classes used them frequently.

There are many methods for generating effective group assignments in class. I found that when my 35 students first entered the CLC, the room’s layout clearly suggested that they would be working together at the round tables, which seat seven. They gravitated naturally to self-defined groups around the tables. This proved to be effective way of forming lasting and productive groups for this class.  Other instructors may wish to randomly assign groups or to purposefully break and re-form groups throughout the course.

Additional Resources

The text for this post originally appeared in the print series of The Innovative Instructor.

Rebecca Pearlman received a PhD in Biology from the University of Wisconsin.  She has over fifteen years of teaching experience ranging from small laboratory courses at a two-year college to large lecture courses at Hopkins. She is delighted to be a lecturer in the Biology Department working with amazing colleagues who are dedicated to improving the undergraduate experience.  Her past collaborations with the CER include work on creating videos of laboratory techniques and piloting in-class voting and course management systems.


Images Source: © Reid Sczerba.

 

Learning by Doing – Case-in-Point

group of business people in silhouette against city skylineCase-in-Point is a method of experiential learning used to teach leadership. An integral part of the theory of Adaptive Leadership™  it was developed over the past 15 years by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky, and their colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The method involves using the actions and behaviors of individual participants as well as focusing on the group of which they are members.

Case-in-Point is an immersive, reflective, and ideally a reflexive exercise facilitated by an instructor but in best practice, shaped by group/class participants. Case-in-Point help leadership practitioners with two key components of leadership development:
• It is teaching method that more realistically prepares people to have stamina, resilience and a willingness to work with others in the heat of change in order to adapt, because “to lead is to live dangerously.
• It helps practitioners generate a heightened awareness of themselves, their impact and the systems they are a part of.

Two Critical Distinctions
According to Heifetz, the Adaptive Leadership framework includes two critical distinctions that are central for understanding case-in-point:
• Authority/Leadership
• Technical Problems/Adaptive Challenges

Authority/Leadership. The first distinction clarifies that having a position of authority does not mean that we exercise leadership. Heifetz reminds us that an expert is not necessarily a leader:

For many challenges in our lives, experts or authorities can solve our problems. . . . We look to doctors to make us healthy, mechanics to fix our cars. . . .We give these people power, authorizing them to find solutions. . . . The problems may be complex, such as a broken arm or a broken carburetor, but experts know exactly how to fix them.

To determine whether we need to exercise authority or leadership, we need to analyze the nature of the problem we face. That brings us to the second distinction:

Technical Problems/Adaptive Challenges. Rather than being technical problems, many of the challenges we face today are adaptive. Heifetz and Linsky maintain:

The problems that require leadership are those that the experts cannot solve. We call these adaptive challenges. The solutions lie not in technical answers, but rather in people themselves. . . . The surgeon can fix your son’s broken arm, but she cannot prevent your son from rollerblading without elbow pads. The dietitian can recommend a weight-loss program, but she cannot curb your love for chocolate chip cookies. . . . Most people would rather have the person in authority take the work off their shoulders, protect them from disorienting change, and meet challenges on their behalf. But the real work of leadership usually involves giving the work back to the people who must adapt, and mobilizing them to do so.

The practice of leadership takes place in an authority structure. In an adaptive challenge, the authority structure—the people in charge—can contribute, but others must participate as well. All people involved are part of the problem, and their shared ownership of that problem becomes part of the solution itself.

Reflecting on these two distinctions, it is easy to see how professors, trainers, and consultants often end up treating the adaptive challenge of teaching as a technical problem, and applying the power of expertise by telling people what to do.

Professors, trainers, and consultants are paid for teaching, not for facilitating learning in others. “You are the expert: teach us” seems to be the implicit contract that students expect instructors to uphold. Many educators consider teaching a technical problem, exercise authority rather than leadership, and deploy their power or personality to influence student learning. In the process, they avoid conflict, demonstrate resolve and focus in their use of time, and provide decisive and assertive answers to problems through authoritative knowledge built over many years. Learners in the class find comfort in the predictability of the endeavor and by its inevitable output delivered according to the plan.

The cost of this collusion is the energy, engagement, effectiveness, and ultimately meaning of the learning enterprise itself. The result is that people lose their ability to grow through experience, tolerate ambiguity, and use sense-making skills.

Case-in-point supports learning over teaching, struggle over prescription, questions over answers, tension over comfort, and capacities and needs over deficiencies. It is about embracing the willingness to be exposed and vulnerable, cultivating persistence in the face of inertial pushbacks, and self-regulating in the face of challenge or open hostility. Why? Because this is what leadership work looks like in the real world. In the process, students and the facilitator learn to recognize their default responses, identify productive and unproductive patterns of behavior, and test their stamina, resilience, and readiness to change the system with others.

Planning and Facilitating with Case-in-Point
In case-in-point, a facilitator must not take reactions toward him personally and must encourage the same in participants. This may mean not taking offense for disrespectful behavior and later asking the person to reflect on how productive his statements were.

Ultimately, the role of the facilitator in case-in-point is to demonstrate the theory in practice, by acting on the system in the class. Case-in-point uses the authority structure and the roles in a class (instructor, participants, stakeholders) and the social expectations and norms of the system (in this case, the class) to practice in real time the meaning of the key concepts of authority, leadership, adaptive challenge, technical problems, factions, and so on.

Planning. How does a facilitator plan a session where she uses case-in-point? As in Jorge Luis Borges’ novel The Garden of the Forking Paths, the text—in this case, the lesson plan—is the point of departure for many possible learning events. The facilitator follows the emergence of interesting themes amid interpersonal dynamics and investigates those dynamics, in response to the guiding question, “What does this moment illustrate that is relevant both to the learning and to the practice of leadership in participants’ lives?” What emerges in the action pushes the class down one path of many possible junctures. For the facilitator, the implicit lesson plan turns into a labyrinth of many exciting—albeit sometimes overwhelming— possibilities.

Facilitating. A case-in-point facilitator’s main tool is the question. Questions are the currency of inquiry, and ultimately case-in-point involves ongoing research into the art of leadership that benefits as more people join the conversation. Here a few questions that I have used successfully:
“What’s your intention right now?”
“What did you notice as you were speaking?”
“In this moment, what do you need from the group to proceed?”
“What happened as soon as you asked everyone to open their books to page 5?”
“What have you noticed happens in the group when I sit down?”
“Am I exercising leadership or authority right now?”

Michael Johnstone and Maxime Fern have expanded on four different levels of intervention for a case-in-point facilitator.

At the individual level: The facilitator may comment on someone’s contribution or action for the sake of reflection, trying to uncover assumptions or beliefs. For example, “Mark, could I ask you to assess the impact on the group of the statement you just made?” “What should I do at this point and why should I do it?” “Are you receiving enough support from others to continue with your point?”

At the relationship level: The facilitator might intervene to name or observe patterns that develop between two or more participants. For example, she may say something like, “I noticed that when Beth speaks, some of you seem not to pay attention.” Or “What does this disagreement tell us about the different values that are present in the room?”

At the group level: The facilitator might confront a faction or a group with a theme emerging from the conversation, maybe after participants agree with or disagree on a controversial statement. For example, “What does the group propose now? Can you articulate the purpose that you are pursuing?” “I noticed many of you are eager to do something, as long as we stop this process of reflection. Why is that?”

At the larger level: The facilitator might comment on participants’ organizations, communities, nationalities, or ethnicities, saying for example, “In light of the large number of foreign nationals in the room, what are the implications of the insistence in the literature that Jack Welch of GE is a model for global leadership?”

 A Way of Being, Not a Way of Teaching
For me, case-in-point is rooted in the distinction between an ontological (science of being) versus an epistemological (science of knowing) view of leadership. When we teach using the case-in-point approach, we’re helping our students learn how to act their way into knowing what is right for their specific organization rather than bestowing our knowledge for them to apply, whether it fits their circumstances or not. Likewise, case-in-point is a statement of congruity, of “practicing what we preach” and, in the process, learning to be better instructors. At the same time, we introduce our students to an exciting realm of possibility, aspiration, and innovation beyond technique or theoretical knowledge.

Rules of Engagement
Johnstone and Fern provide the following rules of engagement for case-in-point facilitators:
• Prepare participants by warning them that learning will be experiential and may get heated. For example, create a one-page overview to leave on each table that clarifies all the concepts of the class and includes bibliographical information.
• Encourage listening and respect (though not too much politeness). For example, establish a clear rule that participants need to listen to each other and state their opinions as such rather than as facts.
• Distinguish between case-in-point and debriefing events. For example, set up two different places in the room—one for case-in-point sessions and one for debriefs—or announce ahead of time which kind of event will follow.
• Facilitators must not take reactions toward them personally and must encourage the same in participants.
• Recognize that no one, including the facilitator, is flawless. Acknowledge and use your own shortcomings by recognizing mistakes and openly apologizing for errors.
• Treat all interpretations as hypotheses. Ask people to consider their own reactions and thoughts as data that clarifies what is going on in the room.
• Respect confidentiality.
• Take responsibility for your own actions. Invite people to own their piece of the “mess” by asking how they have colluded in the problem they are trying to deal with.

For Further Reading
Brown, J., and Isaacs, D., The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter (Berrett-Koehler, 2005)
Daloz Parks, S., Leadership Can Be Taught (Harvard Business School Press, 2005)
Johnstone, M., and Fern, M., Case-in-Point: An Experiential Methodology for Leadership Education and Practice (The Journal, Kansas Leadership Center, Fall 2010)
Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., and Linsky, M., The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Harvard Business Press, 2009)

The text for this post originally appeared as a longer article by Adriano Pianesi: “The Class of the Forking Paths”: Leadership and “Case-In-Point.” The Systems Thinker, Vol. 24. No. 1. Feb. 2013.

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Adriano Pianesi teaches leadership at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School and is the principal of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc.  He holds a Master’s degree in Corporate Communication from the University of Milan. Pianesi is a member of the Society for Organizational Learning and the World Cafe’ community of practice, as well as a certified Action Learning coach and a passionate experiential learner/teacher.


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Making Group Projects Work

Instructors often find that student engagement increases when active learning strategies are implemented in the classroom. One strategy is to assign problem-based collaborative learning projects. Well-conceived group projects help students develop critical thinking skills, learn how to work in teams, and apply theories learned in the course to real-life situations, producing an appreciation for how the knowledge gained will be useful once the class is over. The end result is a richer learning experience for the students.

Drawing of chairs around gears, screw driver tightening screw in center of second gear.

Students are more likely to appreciate and retain information when they see a correlation between course work and what they expect to experience as working professionals. Problem-based group projects typically require an array of cognitive skills, induce collaborative learning, and allow students to take ownership of the process. Moreover, students who learn to work in teams are better prepared for their future work environments.

Developing effective problem-based group projects requires assignments that reflect your course learning goals and incorporate course information, permit management of the student groups, and facilitate assessment of student progress. Advance planning and thoughtful strategies will go a long way towards ensuring successful implementation.

I. Setting Student Expectations

  • Weight the project fairly. You want your students to take the project seriously but you don’t want to weight the project so heavily that experimentation or risk-taking is stifled. Consider dividing the project into parts and grading each separately, so the team understands which aspects of the project went well and what needs improvement.
  • Discuss student roles and what’s needed. Get the students thinking about what will be required of their team and how they can organize and manage the project.  Emphasize the importance of a team schedule. Discuss the qualities of a good teammate so that students begin the project with mutual respect.
  • Start with small exercises as a warm up. Consider starting with a couple of smaller in-class team-based exercises so that students get used to working collaboratively

 II. Group generation methods

  • Allowing self-selection of teams can create problems. Students like to choose friends as teammates. Personal issues then carry over into the project, friendships may suffer, or the members may take the project less seriously, resulting in poor group performance.
  • Random selection is a reasonable alternative to student choice. This method is the fastest way to generate groups and more reflective of the real world. While random selection is convenient, consider ensuring diversity in each group to the extent possible.
  • Skills based alignment is ideal for creating groups. Identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses through in-class exercises can help establish well-rounded teams. As a part of the preparation for the project, generate a list of the skills needed, have the students identify their strong and weak areas, then group the students accordingly.

 III. Getting each student to contribute

  • Assign the students to roles. The difference between a dysfunctional group and a successful team lies in assigning roles. If students are assigned tasks with deadlines, they are more likely to take ownership and responsibility for completing their work as part of the team. Establishing roles can be a part of the group creation process. Avoid having students doing the same task for the entire length of the project. Instead, make the skill requirements for the team more conceptual. Use abstract concepts (Researcher or Synthesizer; Gatherer of Data or Analyzer of Data) so that broad expertise is required for each role.
  • Require that a different student present the team’s progress for each report. Make sure that each student has an opportunity to participate in an in-class presentation. Presenting their work is a skill that all students will use in the future. As it involves an understanding of all the parts of the project, these presentations by each team member also help to ensure successful group collaboration.

 IV. Assessing the team/individual in and outside of class

  • Have the students do evaluations. This can be done both during and after the project. Evaluations serve as reflective exercises for the students, allowing them to comment on how the process could be improved. Evaluations are particularly useful for gauging the team and individuals’ contributions for grading. Questions that require students to evaluate their own performance, the performance of each team member, and the team as a whole can provide insight into how the team functioned.
  • Schedule time for team work in class. Scheduling group work outside of class is always a challenge for students. By allowing time during class for team work, you also will have an opportunity to monitor student progress. This is a great way to gauge whether the students are experiencing difficulties and provide an opportunity for questions, clarifications, or assistance with problems. Some of the best learning comes from spontaneous discussion in class, and peer-learning can be extremely effective when students are working together to solve problems.
  • Ask for regular status updates. Starting class with a brief progress report from each team will bring up questions and concerns that can be addressed at once, eliminating redundancy and saving time.

V. Build in time for reflection

  • Reflection is key to learning from failure as well as success. Make sure you build in time for students to reflect on their progress. The best time to get the students to reflect on their experience is after the project during a debriefing discussion. Questions such as “What went well or not so well?” and “What would you do differently?” will enhance the opportunity for learning from their failures as well as their successes.

This post was adapted from The Innovative Instructor article series: http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_MakingGroupProjectsWork.pdf

Pam Sheff,
Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University
Pam Sheff is an award-winning writer and marketing communications consultant, with experience developing marketing, public relations and communications strategies for clients ranging from start-ups to large corporate, institutional and government organizations. Now a full-time lecturer in CLE, Pam has taught classes on business communications and entrepreneurship.

Leslie Kendrick,
Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University
Leslie Kendrick has taught in the CLE program since 2002 and developed the five core marketing courses. She has 12 years of experience as a marketing practitioner. She has  worked for Harper & Row Publishers, Londontown Corporation, and Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.


Image Source: © Reid Sczerba, 2012

In Case You Missed It…

The Innovative Instructor has had several posts on flipping your classroom [2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 3: Flipping the Classroom and Flipping Your Class]. Two weeks ago the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the Office of Graduate Education held their annual Faculty Teaching Workshop.  This year’s topic was: Engaging Students in Active Learning: The Flipped Classroom and Other Strategies.

Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Teaching and Learning Logo

So why are we telling you this now, after the fact? The good news is that recordings were made of the sessions in the half-day workshop and have been shared along with slides and other resources.

The goals of the workshop were to:

  • Articulate the purpose and value of incorporating active learning and flipping a class/session
  • Evaluate the usefulness of flipping
  • Compare several methods for active learning techniques
  • Implement active learning and/or classroom flipping techniques in your class

The program included:

  • The Active Learning Landscape, Dr. Stephen Gange, Professor of Epidemiology
  • Make Learning Un-Google-able: 21st Century Pedagogies that Will Transform Education, Dr. Marcio Oliveira, Asst. Dean for Educational Innovation, UMD School of Public Health
  • Promoting Active Learning in a Large “Lecture” Class; Experience from a First Try, Dr. Scott Zeger, Vice Provost for Research, JHU
  • Faculty Panel: Active Learning and Flipped Classrooms at JHSPH
  • Panelists: Dr. Elizabeth Golub, Epidemiology; Dr. Keri Althoff, Epidemiology; Beth Resnick, Public Health Practice; Dr. Nan Astone, Population, Family, and Reproductive Health; Moderator: Clark Shah-Nelson, Senior Instructional Designer, CTL

So check out the workshop recordings. And while you are in the neighborhood, the JHSPH Center for Teaching and Learning has many other great resources for teaching on their website.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: ©Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, CTL Toolkit Logo

 

2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 3: Flipping the Classroom

A Report from the Trenches

We’re continuing with our reports from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) 2nd Annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences. Next up is “Flipping the Classroom: How to Do It Conceptually and Technologically” presented by Michael Falk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Material Sciences and Engineering  and Brian Cole, Senior Information Technology Specialist, Center for Educational Resources.

Please note that links to examples and explanations in the text below were added by CER staff and were not included in the breakout session presentation.

Instructor with students at computers

For the past several years Professor Michael Falk has “flipped” his course EN.510.202 –Computation and Programming for Materials Scientists and Engineers.  [See the recent Innovative Instructor post on Flipping Your Class.] The purpose of Falk’s class is to teach algorithm development and programming in the context of materials science and engineering.  The class size ranges between 20 and 30 students, and Professor Falk has one Teaching Assistant for the class.

Professor Falk outlined the logistics for the students taking the course. They are required to watch a video of a lecture-style presentation he has posted on his Blackboard course site, and then take a quiz on the content presented in the podcast, before coming to class. The quizzes ensure that the students will watch the lecture and are held accountable for the information presented. Once in class, Falk has the students engage in an interactive experience, such as writing a mini-program, based on the material from the presentation. He noted that he has not found making the podcasts difficult, but creating in-class active learning experiences for his students has been more challenging. He spends a great deal of time developing in-class exercises that will build cumulatively. He also wants students to be able to get enough from the classroom activity to continue work on their own.

For assessment purposes he has students take a survey at the beginning of the semester and at the end of the semester to determine learning gains. Preliminary data indicate that the class increases the ability of students to program, that students showed increased perception in their abilities, as well as an increased intention to use programming in the future.

Brian Cole discussed and demonstrated the technology behind the flipped classroom.  Falk uses the software application ClassSpot, which allows students to share their work on the classroom’s main projection screen, to edit common code during class.  Cole described using Audacity, Adobe Connect, Adobe Presenter, and QuickTime on Macs to create the video recordings.  He mentioned that a faculty member could also use an appropriate pre-recorded lecture from a trusted source. Falk uses ScreenFlow to make his presentations; however, Johns Hopkins does not have a license for this software. Adobe Captivate is another possibility. It is very powerful but has a steeper learning curve.

The follow questions were raised and answered during the session:

Q – Could this method be used to flip a few modules as opposed to the entire course?
A – Undergrads don’t like change, so it would probably be better to do the whole course.

Q – Can students watch the podcasts over and over?
A – Yes.

Q – Where is the textbook in all of this? Could you replace your podcasts with readings from a textbook?
A – There are reading assignments in addition to the videos. In my experience, students prefer a human face, a talking head, over reading a textbook.

Q – How do students reach you if class time is dedicated to working on problems?
A – I encourage students to use the class Blackboard discussion board. [Note: The flipped class structure  doesn’t prevent students from talking to the faculty member, and Falk also has office hours.]

Q – Did you scale back student work [outside of class] since more time spent watching podcasts?
A – Yes – most of the traditional homework is done in class.

Q – Are there tests?
A – Yes.

Q- How important are quizzes to making the flipped course work?
A – Very important. Students are very grade oriented so having quizzes, tests, and exams matters. Quizzes are great motivators for getting students to watch the videos.

Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 1: Practical Tips for Active Learning

A Report from the Trenches

The next several posts will be in the form of reports from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) 2nd Annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences. The symposium featured five breakout sessions and many of us attending wished we could clone ourselves and attend more than one, as the topics were so interesting. So to those who couldn’t bilocate, and to those who couldn’t attend the symposium, these posts are for you.

First up is “Moving from Lecture-based Teaching to Active Learning Instructional Approaches: Some Practical Tips” facilitated by Robin Wright, PhD, Associate Dean and Professor of Biology, University of Minnesota.

Robin Wright practiced what she preaches in this breakout session, quickly moving the participants into an active learning activity.

Engaging in active learning discussion.To begin she told faculty to “…start where you are, you don’t need to start over. Start with your current lecture notes and identify the key learning outcomes. What can you do instead of telling your students?” (Remember that the one who does the work does the learning. When you tell your students, you are doing the work.)

She asked participants to think about their favorite lecture, or their worst one. She then discussed the principle of backward design – an instructor looks at what s/he wants students to know and/or be able to do at the end of the course.  Dr. Wright noted that the advantage of backward design is by starting with defining the desired end result, instructors can create appropriate assessments and activities. As well, students can be told what they can expect to learn. Setting clear expectations helps students achieve the goals set for them.

She then asked everyone to define a learning outcome and design an assessment to determine how well students reached the outcome, directing three questions to the participants:

  1. What do you want students to know or be able to do [think in terms of the lecture you’ve selected – what do you want the students to learn from that lecture]?
  2. How will you assess their learning?
  3. What activities will you plan to help them reach your specific goals?

Dr. Wright walked the participants through an example from her own class, defined the outcome, described activities that moved students from a lower level  to a higher level (Bloom’s Taxonomy) with activities, and described how assessed.

Then the participants were set to work on writing one higher level learning outcome and an appropriate assessment and discussing these with the people sitting near them. Everyone appeared to be very enthusiastic about this exercise. In sharing after the small group exchanges we heard the following comments:

It was difficult for many to get started.
It was a powerful tool for determining what the class should focus on.
Participants refined their learning outcomes and assessments in discussion with others.

Dr. Wright then talked about the “tools in her toolkit” that she uses as activities and gave examples of some of these:

  1. Figures from the textbook projected and used as a basis for questions for small group discussion.
  2. Trick questions (questions which may seem to have an obvious answer, but the “obvious answer” is not the correct one).
  3. Videos used to challenge thinking and promote discussion, often used as a way to introduce broad subjects (e.g., evolution) to her classes.
  4. Case studies used to get students to think critically and to begin to learn on their own, outside of the classroom.

She introduced each “tool” with a specific example, and had participants briefly discuss possible answers to questions she would ask her students. Again, the participants gained an understanding of how to incorporate active learning into the classroom through an active learning process.

View the video of Robin Wright’s 2013 GSI Symposium keynote address “Teach What Really Matters; Use What Really Works.” 

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft clip art

Flipping Your Class

At the 2nd Annual Johns Hopkins University Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences, we heard a lot about flipping the classroom.

From lecture hall to interactive learning - two images with arrow connecting.

The term, flipped classroom, might bring to mind an anti-gravity experiment, but it actually refers to a different way of thinking about teaching and learning. In a traditional pedagogical model, a faculty member is a “sage on the stage,” lecturing to students (who are frantically taking notes in an effort to capture all of the professor’s pearls of wisdom).  Assignments – readings, problem sets, projects, papers – are all done outside of class, often with little or no direct guidance from faculty.

In the flipped classroom (also called the inverted classroom), the process is turned around. Instead of doing problem-based homework outside of class and coming to class to hear the professor lecture, the student watches a version of the lecture content online, and comes to class to work on problems in an interactive, collaborative setting. The faculty member becomes a “guide on the side” or a coach, perhaps injecting a mini-lecture when needed to help students struggling with a common problem.  The focus shifts from teaching to learning.

This is not an “either/or” or an “instead of” situation. Students view the online content at their convenience, do the assigned readings, AND come to class.  They must come to class because that’s where the active learning will happen, where they are going to work on problems individually or in groups, and perhaps most importantly, where they will develop skills that will enable them to be life-long learners, not only in the discipline that you teach, but in any subject. Some professors choose to insert quick (graded) quizzes at the start of the flipped class as a further inducement to attendance.

Two high school teachers, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, are credited with developing the model for the flipped classroom in 2007. Sams was awarded the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and he and his colleague have written extensively about this model and its evolution. See the blog post The Flipped Class: Shedding Light on the Confusion, Critique, and Hype; an article available as a PDF for JHU affiliates, Before You Flip, Consider This; and their book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.

One quote from the blog post describes the classroom scene and is particularly compelling:

As we roam around the class, we notice the students developing their own collaborative groups.  Students are helping each other learn instead of relying on the teacher as the sole disseminator of knowledge.

One of the greatest benefits of flipping is that overall interaction increases: teacher to student and student to student.  Since the role of the teacher has changed from presenter of content to learning coach, we spend our time talking to kids.  We are answering questions, working with small groups, and guiding the learning of each student individually.

When students are working on an assignment and we notice a group of students who are struggling with the same thing, we automatically organize the students into a tutorial group.  We often conduct mini-lectures with groups of students who are struggling with the same content. The beauty of these mini-lectures is we are delivering “just in time” instruction when the students are ready for learning.

Changing the focus in the classroom from the faculty teaching to the students actively learning may prove to be challenging to the instructor used to actively teaching. Terry Doyle, a professor and author of two books on learner centered teaching, tells us, “It’s the one who does the work who does the learning.” [Helping Students Learn in a Learner Center Environment: A Guide to Teaching in Higher Education, Stylus, 2008, p. 25].

Robert Talbert, who teaches mathematics at Grand Valley State University in Michigan and writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has posted about his experiences with flipping his classroom on his blog, Casting Out Nines. His posts speak honestly about his experiences including receiving pushback from some students. One of his recent pieces, We Need to Produce Learners, Not Just Students, looks at the concept of producing life-long learners mentioned above.

On the practical side, there are DIY guides. Julie Schell, a post-doc working with Eric Mazur – the Harvard University physics professor who developed Peer Instruction, a research-based, interactive teaching method – has created a Quick Start Guide to Flipping your Classroom with Peer Instruction. Closer to home, JHU Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Michael Falk, has been flipping his classroom since 2010. In an article for the Innovative Instructor Pedagogy Forum entitled Lectures on Demand, he outlines the technology solutions he has used to produce the video content.

Faculty writing about the applied components of the flipped classroom agree that using shorter, topic-focused videos for the out of class content is more effective than video-taping their traditional 50 minute (or longer) lectures. As was discussed in our post on micro-lectures, students’ attention begins to wander after 10 minutes. Professor Falk notes in his article that creating the online content requires thought and up-front time, but pays off later, as this content can be reused in subsequent offerings of the course. Faculty can use video-recordings of themselves explaining key concepts or problems, borrow from Khan Academy or similar materials available on YouTube educational channels, offer animations or other didactic resources.

Faculty who have made the flip are enthusiastic about the benefits for their students. After the discussions at the GSI Symposium, we hope to see more flipping at JHU.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft clip art edited by Macie Hall

Microlectures

You may have heard some buzz recently about microlectures or mini-lectures. Here’s The Innovative Instructor’s scoop on the topic.

Microlectures are just what they sound like – short, focused discourses on specific topics. If you’ve ever watched a TED talk, you’ve experienced a microlecture. The classic TED talk is 18 minutes or shorter, and the speaker concentrates on developing a single big idea.  Another example of the microlecture can be found in the Khan Academy model. The Khan Academy website boasts a library of videos covering “…K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and …humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.”

Students in class room raising hands.

What does this have to do with you and your teaching approach? Research has shown that a student’s attention span during lectures decreases after fifteen minutes [Wankat, P., The Effective Efficient Professor: Teaching, Scholarship and Service, Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MA, 2002]. Once you lecture past that time, students retain significantly less information. [Hartley, J., and Davies, I., “Note Taking: A Critical Review,” Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 1978, Vol. 15, pp. 207–224.] Hartley and Davies suggested that breaking up a lecture into smaller segments could help keep students engaged.

One way to integrate microlectures into your face-to-face teaching is to intersperse short periods of lecturing  with active learning activities. These exercises will reinforce the material you’ve just presented.

Even if you have a large enrollment for your course, it is possible to implement active learning strategies. A quick method is “Pair-Share.” After presenting in a microlecture format, have your students pair off and discuss a question you pose to test their comprehension of the material just covered. Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, has written and presented (see his talk, Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative 2012 Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences) on using active learning, and pair-share exercises, in large courses.

The Educause Learning Initiative recently published a short tip sheet on microlectures that are recorded for students to use outside of the classroom: 7 Things You Should Know about Microlectures.  This two page PDF document addresses recording microlectures for hybrid or “flipped” class settings (where the recorded lecture is viewed by students outside of regular class time), but contains advice that will be useful in fully face-to-face learning environments as well.

If you are interested in learning more about active learning strategies and how you can integrate these into your teaching, perhaps in conjunction with microlectures, you can get a jump start by reading the article, Active Learning: An Introduction [Felder, R.M. and Brent, R., 2009, ASQ Higher Education Brief, 2(4), 1-5].  This is an introduction to active learning that includes frequently asked questions about what you can do and what you can get your students to do.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Select Web Resources on Active Learning Strategies in the Sciences

Students in classroomSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education is very much on the radar screen here at Johns Hopkins. Last year our Provost launched the Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) as a “…multi-dimensional program to improve and enrich learning of gateway sciences at Johns Hopkins University for undergraduate and graduate students.” Active learning strategies have been a big part of the ensuing conversation. Following are some web resources that will be useful for faculty interested in finding out more about how to incorporate active learning activities into their teaching.

Team-Based Learning Collaborative
http://www.teambasedlearning.org

The Team-Based Learning Collaborative (TBLC) is a consortium of university educators dedicated to supporting faculty from a variety of disciplines who wish to implement team-based learning. The website has specific guidelines, how-to videos, and step by step instructions created by faculty for faculty.

Yale Center for Scientific Teaching
http://www.yale.edu/cst/

The goal of the Center for Scientific Teaching is to enhance undergraduate biology education by training a new generation of “scientific teachers,” namely faculty and instructors who bring the rigor and spirit of science research to teaching. The website has instructional modules developed by faculty who teach undergraduate and graduate science courses and a bi bibliography.

MIT Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL)
 http://web.mit.edu/edtech/casestudies/teal.html

TEAL is an initiative to transform university education from a string of passive lectures in introductory courses into an intense, active, personalized and highly collaborative adventure. The central concepts are flexible modes of learning that better stimulate discovery and improve understanding of conceptual material. The website provides an overview to the activities and spaces in use at MIT and is useful as a model for active learning initiatives.

Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning
http://wallenberg.stanford.edu/

Wallenberg Hall is Stanford University’s center for research in classroom teaching and learning. This site provides a model for active learning with descriptions of the facility, case studies of how the rooms are used, and case studies and interviews with faculty talking about their classroom experiences. Of particular interest are the papers, presentations, and information about on-going research in teaching and learning found here: http://wallenberg.stanford.edu/teaching/findings.html

NC State University Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP)
http://www.ncsu.edu/PER/scaleup.html

The primary goal of the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) Project is to establish highly collaborative, hands-on, computer-rich, interactive learning environments for large-enrollment courses. The website showcases the SCALE-UP spaces at North Carolina State University and other institutions that have adopted SCALE-UP.  Also available through the website: links to physics learning activities, research in physics education, software products to enrich visualization in physics classes, assessment resources, and student learning toolkits.

Minnesota – Active Learning Classrooms
http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/alc/index.html

The University of Minnesota has invested in a new Active Learning Classrooms building and has developed these web resource pages to outline the considerations and challenges in adopting active learning methods, and to provide faculty with specific strategies and activities to promote successful active learning course design.

University of Washington Physics Education Group
Tutorials in Introductory Physics

http://www.phys.washington.edu/groups/peg/curric.html

Two major curriculum developments are the subject of publications by the Physics Education Group at UW.  Physics by Inquiry is a set of lab-based modules designed for K-12 teachers and for college students whose science background is weak. Tutorials in Introductory Physics is intended for use by small groups of students working collaboratively as a supplementary curriculum to aid in the development and application of key concepts in calculus or algebra-based physics.

Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia (CWSEI)
http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/index.html

The goal of the CWSEI is to achieve highly effective, evidence-based science education for all post-secondary students by applying the latest advances in pedagogical and organizational excellence. This website has a number of useful resources applicable for STEM teaching. Of particular interest are:

Clicker Resources, which include an instructor’s guide: http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/clickers.htm and videos that show the benefits of, and offer practical tips on, using clickers in the classroom: http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/SEI_video.html

Educause 
http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume40/LearningSpaceDesigninAction/157996

EDUCAUSE Review Magazine, Volume 40, Number 4, July/August 2005 has several articles on learning space design theories, principles, and practices, including details on active learning initiatives and activity-based science courses at MIT, NC State University, University of Washington, and Dickinson College, among others.

Association of American Universities (AAU) Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative
http://www.aau.edu/policy/article.aspx?id=12588

The Association of American Universities (AAU) announced on September 14, 2011, that it would undertake a five-year initiative to improve the quality of undergraduate teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at its member institutions. The goals of the initiative are to help institutions assess the quality of STEM teaching on their campuses, share best practices, and create incentives for their departments and faculty members to adopt the most effective teaching methods in their classes.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image source: Microsoft Clip Art

Quick Tips: Using Case Studies

Sometimes we see a link to a resource or hear of a teaching solution that we want to share. The Innovative Instructor provides the perfect place for this. In our Quick Tips you’ll be getting “Just the facts, ma’am.” Or sir, as the case may be.

Students in discussionOne of our CER colleagues, Mike Reese came across a link to a great online resource for case studies (also called case reports), the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS).

From the NCCSTS website. “[Case studies] can be used not only to teach scientific concepts and content, but also process skills and critical thinking.  And since many of the best cases are based on contemporary, and often contentious, science problems that students encounter in the news, the use of cases in the classroom makes science relevant.” (http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/about/)

If you want to know more about case studies and the value they can provide in your teaching, the Colorado State University Writing Guide to Case Studies is a good place to start.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art