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INTRODUCTION: As an instructional designer, I work with faculty members
who want to improve their teaching. Being one step removed from the classroom has some advantages: If I can convince faculty to try new and
more effective teaching strategies, I can indirectly reach thousands of students, many more than if I were still teaching myself. However, this
indirect connection to the students can also be frustrating. Because I can't teach others’ students, I have to trust that once the faculty
members leave my workshops, the strategies I've modeled and introduced will improve student learning.
After attending the On Course workshop, I wondered how a faculty development position could lend itself to
furthering the On Course philosophies. The first approach was obvious: introduce and model On
Course strategies to faculty, and help them incorporate these techniques into their classrooms. The second approach needed to simmer a
little longer on the back burner of my brain. In my dealings with faculty, I've noticed that some faculty members
exhibit the same self-limiting behaviors as their students--behaviors that undermine their teaching
effectiveness. For example, often instructors blame students, the high school system, and administrators for poorly prepared and
consequently poor performing students. They cling to familiar ways of teaching simply
because "that's how I was taught" and "I have too much content to cover." They complain about teaching difficulties rather than taking
steps to improve it. Just as these beliefs and behaviors limit students' potential, so also do they prevent *faculty* from
becoming the most effective instructors they can be.
My approach to transferring the On Course principles, therefore, is threefold:
|to teach strategies that faculty can use with their students to help
them be more successful in college|
|to model these strategies in my workshops so that faculty can see them
|to use the strategies to empower faculty to take greater responsibility
for their teaching effectiveness|
The first opportunity I had to integrate On Course principles with my
own work was Active Learning Week: a week-long workshops series in mid-July that I had been planning for several months. The primary
objectives of the series were to introduce faculty to the importance of Active Learning, model and discuss a variety of Active Learning
strategies, and to tackle the dilemma of "covering content" versus taking the time to let students grapple with
This third objective tapped into one of the greatest anxieties that instructors have about using active learning strategies. Many faculty
worry that Active Learning techniques reduce the amount of time they have to "get through" content. This anxiety points to bigger issues
(students can't do it on their own; I don't have time to use these techniques; this is how I was taught, etc) that underscored my three
collateral learning objectives. As a result of this workshop, I wanted faculty to...
|commit to struggle with the issue of enhancing learning versus covering
content (not solve it every time)|
|commit to a new teaching technique(s) that might rejuvenate their
outlook on the profession|
|get them to take more responsibility for their teaching and student
With this context laid, I would like to describe the first of three
activities I facilitated during this week to reach both my primary and collateral objectives.
TITLE: The "A-ha" Moment: A Guided Journal Exercise
PURPOSE: I knew that the first activity I planned for Active Learning Week was pivotal. To start the week with a lecture defining active
learning and describing its benefits would have undermined the tone I wanted for the week. I wanted the term "Active Learning" to hit an
emotional chord with my participants from the beginning, so that for the rest of the week faculty would see these strategies not as "edu-babble" but as methods that they could appreciate as learners and teachers.
SUPPLIES/SET UP: A blank sheet of paper for each participant
DIRECTIONS: I divided the participants into two large groups. I told them that they would be free-writing for about 5-7 minutes.
Group 1 responded to the following prompt: Think of a time you learned something new--you “got it” and were excited. What happened to help you
get it? What was the learning experience like? How did it feel?
Group 2 responded to a similar prompt: Think of a time you were teaching and got excited about your students’ learning. What happened to help
your students get it? What was the learning experience like? How did it feel?
After they had written their entries, I paired participants from Group 1 with those from Group 2. I asked them to share these experiences with
their partner, and then identify what the learning experiences had in common. I then called on a few pairs to share their common experiences
with the whole group. The entire process took about 20 minutes.
OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: In order to hit that emotional chord with my participants, I wanted to highlight the rush one feels when they have an
"a-ha" moment, or when their students do. This rush, I believe, is what rejuvenates us as learners and teachers.
By drawing on a positive learning experience, either as a teacher or a learner, participants could see how the learner's involvement in the
process facilitated this "a-ha!" moment. After comparing their journal entries with their partners, participants noted these things in common:
"We both had experiences where the student figured it out for him/herself"
" In both cases, the learner was empowered."
"The learner used resources available to get the information."
"It involved applying the information more than hearing about it."
After processing this experience, participants were in a much better place to do three things that closed this introductory session and set
the stage for the rest of the week:
|briefly explore the "textbook" definitions of active
|commit to struggle to create "a-ha" moments for their students
(sometimes at the expense of content coverage)|
|evaluate the strategies they would be experiencing throughout the week
with respect to their ability to create these "a-ha" moments.|
LESSONS LEARNED FROM ACTIVE LEARNING WEEK: Planning a week’s worth of
faculty development activities is like preparing a mini-curriculum, and the skills that worked for me when I was a teacher also helped me design
and deliver this program: meticulous planning, a relaxed presentation style, and an appreciation for the work the “students” are doing. I was
amazed that 25 faculty members, including those underpaid and under-appreciated folks we call adjunct faculty, would voluntarily spend
five afternoons in the summer to dive deep and explore their teaching. More faculty attended this summer workshop series than all my fall
workshop offerings combined, giving me a better picture of when faculty are most willing to take advantage of professional development
I also learned how much participants like to hear what their colleagues are doing in the classroom. A session that got the most positive
feedback was called “Stories from the Trenches,” when two full-time faculty members shared how they converted a lesson from a traditional
“talk and chalk” approach to a more student-centered approach. Hearing faculty describe the benefits and the challenges to their new approach made quite an impact on the participants.
Of course, I didn’t make Active Learning converts out of every participant. On my final evaluations, there were a few comments about
this being nothing more than “games” done at the expense of “real teaching,” (because, of course, learning can’t be fun!). Some
participants found it difficult to distance themselves from the role of “student/observer” in the week’s activities to clearly evaluate the
active learning strategies I was modeling. (One participant stayed twenty minutes after a session had ended arguing about his
dissatisfaction with how a simulation activity ended for his group. He could at that moment only process the result; he could not step back
from the activity to look at it as a potential teaching tool.) Many participants wished they had more time in the week to explore these
strategies in greater depth, which I will consider when repeating this event. I will also pare down the number of articles I provide in the
binder; it was overwhelming for some participants. On the whole, however, I was very pleased with this effort and look forward to Active
Learning Week (the sequel) next summer.
RESOURCES: BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ACTIVE LEARNING RESOURCES
Bonwell, Charles C. and James A. Eison. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the
Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education
and Human Development, 1991.
Meyers, Chet and Thomas B. Jones. Promoting Active Learning: Strategies for the College
Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.
Vella, Jane. Taking Learning to Task: Creative Strategies for Teaching
Adults. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000.
“Active Learning: Getting Students to Work and Think in the Classroom,” Speaking of
Teaching: Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching Volume 5, Number 1 Fall 1993. Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford
Faust, J.L., and Paulson, D.R. (1998). "Active Learning in the College Classroom."
Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 9 (2), 3-24.
Guidelines for Active Learning in a College Classroom http://www.educ.drake.edu/romig/activelng.html
Fostering Classroom Discussions http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/english/tc/discussion.htm
Lee, Christing, et.al. (1997) Cooperative Learning in the Thinking Classroom: Research and Theoretical Perspectives. Paper presented at
the International Conference on Thinking, Singapore. EDRS document: ED 408 570
Felder, Richard and Rebecca Brent. (1994). Cooperative Learning in Technical Courses: Procedures, Pitalls, and Payoffs. ERIC Document
Reproduction Service Report ED 377038. http://www2.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Coopreport.html
Jones, L.G. (1997). Sample Cooperative Learning Strategies. A Guide to Using the Extended Class Period. Baltimore: Crespar, Johns Hopkins
Cooperative Learning: The "Jigsaw" Approach www.jigsaw.org
PROBLEM BASED LEARNING
University of Delaware’s extensive PBL site http://www.udel.edu/pbl/
Maricopa Community College’s PBL site http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/pbl
National Teaching and Learning Forum: Does Journal Writing Promote Long-Term Retention?
ERIC Digest: Journal Writing and Adult Learning http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed399413.html
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
Sources of Cases and Teaching Information
--Erin Hagar, Instructional Designer, Johns Hopkins
University (MD) email@example.com
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