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I Was Inspired by a Teaching Workshop, But Now What Do I Do?
Dr. Mary Haines in a teaching workshop
Dr. Haines enjoys an informative workshop on "Why should I change the way I teach?"
Dr. Mary Haines, after attending an interactive teaching workshop, was inspired to change how she taught her control systems course, a tough course for students that yielded low exam scores. When preparing for the course, however, she had difficulty figuring out exactly how to modify her teaching. She gained some helpful suggestions from a departmental colleague.
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In a faculty meeting, Dr. Mary Haines, an associate professor in Electrical Engineering at a private university, heard her respected colleague, James, recommend a workshop for engineering faculty called "Why should I change the way I teach?"
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Mary thought of her control systems design course. This is a tough class for her students, with students last year averaging 72% on exams. She first assumed the low exam scores were due to studentsí poor preparation or low motivation, but after talking to her students she realized they put in good effort but just werenít learning the concepts. She teaches this course every year and the class is in lecture format with weekly homework, a midterm, and a final. Mary thought that perhaps this workshop could help her modify her teaching enough to improve the studentís performance.
She attended the workshop, glad to see other engineering colleagues of various experience levels attending it. The workshop explained how research shows that classes that incorporate more active learning techniques have higher student learning and student satisfaction than the traditional lecture format. In the workshop they also learned about varied learning styles and saw examples of new interactive teaching methods.
Mary was undoubtedly inspired by the workshop, but when it was time to prepare the next control systems class, she reviewed the syllabus and was a little perplexed exactly how to incorporate active learning techniques into her lectures. Feeling momentarily discouraged and daunted, Mary mentioned this roadblock to her colleague James and they talked about his suggestions:
  • If you need ideas for active learning activities for a specific class, talk to colleagues whoíve taught similar classes and ask what unique activities they used.
  • Be open to seeking individual help with your teaching. Instructional consultants can often offer concrete suggestions for tailoring your class.
  1. Realize that even active learning techniques that help students think critically about new material and spark greater inquiry into concepts can be simple. For example, the quick and easy Think-Pair-Share technique prompts students to use information they just heard about in a lecture.
  2. Be prepared to explain your new techniques to the students. Active learning can often fail in the set-up and the wrap-up. If you donít give students a reason for doing the activity, they will consider it busywork or too different from what they are used to, which is lectures and note taking. If you donít do a wrap-up, you risk that the students will not see they learned anything and will consider the activity busywork.
  3. Incorporate classroom assessment techniques so that you know when your changes are successful. For example, the Minute Paper quickly gauges students understanding of materials recently covered.
  4. Start small. Make sound incremental changes rather than making sweeping changes that take a great deal of time and effort. Remember that updating one's teaching skills is a gradual process.
When the semester started, Mary tried incorporating 5-minute discussion groups to break up the lecture and used Minute Papers at the end of lectures to identify the muddy concepts. She remained patient with her students and herself during this time of change and was rewarded for her efforts by significantly higher student scores. because her studentsí average scores increased significantly.
Implementing active learning techniques
Research has shown that students in a classroom using active learning techniques learn more than those in a traditional lecture format. In active learning, students perform tasks which call upon their current knowledge and spur exploration of new concepts.

Explains how to use the think-pair-share method. From the "Doing CL (Collaborative Learning)" web site sponsored by the National Institute for Science Education, a site to devoted explaining small group learning activities.

Learning by Doing (PDF)
Short article offering ideas for incorporating active learning into your class. Written by two prominent engineering education researchers.

Active Learning for the College Classroom
Briefly explains 29 active learning techniques, covering techniques for individuals, questions & answers, immediate feedback, critical thinking, pairs, and groups.

Active Learning (PDF)
A short article explaining active learning and offering suggestions for incorporating it into the classroom.

Alternative Strategies and Active Learning (PDF)
Describes a number of teaching strategies: peer teaching, cooperative learning groups, case studies, simulations, games, written assignments, and out-of-class exercises.
Assessing impact of teaching changes
Are your changes working? You can gauge their worth by assessing student learning with classroom assessment techniques (CATs).

Classroom Assessment Techniques - Overview
Thirteen different techniques for assessing student learning, field-tested by faculty from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.

One Minute Papers
A short explanation of how to use the One-Minute Paper, a quick way to assess where your students are confused and what theyíre taking away from your lecture. Offers good questions to ask students, plus provides theoretical background to this technique.

The One Minute Paper (PDF)
Easy-to-read guidance on when, why, and how to use the One Minute Paper classroom assessment technique.
Helping students adjust to active learning
Most undergraduate students are used to the lecture format and the role of instructor as purveyor of truth. Educators should help students understand the benefits of active learning and help them take on this greater responsibility for their learning.

Implementing Active Learning: Recommendations for Success (PDF)
Five key recommendations for instructors and faculty who are beginning to use active learning techniques. Developed by an instructional developer who specifically consulted engineering faculty.

Navigating the Bumpy Road to Student-Centered Instruction
Students sometimes reactive negatively to activities that place more of the responsibility for learning on students. Written by two researchers of engineering education. Also addresses faculty concerns.
Making changes in the classroom
Changing from a lecture format to a more interactive format can be both challenging and rewarding and is best accomplished gradually.

How do we change the way we teach?
Some tips about making small changes to achieve a more interactive classroom. Written by a professor who lectured for 30 years and then, over several terms, changed his classes to cooperative learning environments.
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