Recently we asked our colleagues to share their reflections on their teaching this term. Several instructors reported very positive results from an entire course redesign or from particular activities that they tried out for the first time. These teaching experiments yielded some surprising and helpful insights about course materials and the learning environment. Not everything works out how we envision it, unfortunately. We may not always achieve our goals for student engagement or creating an active learning environment. However, as you will see in the responses below, we can use these experiences to reflect on our goals and objectives, and make appropriate adjustments in our practices the next time. We have added a few suggestions of our own for your consideration.
Flipping the Classroom and Interacting Online
I flipped my class this year. I teach veterinary clinical nutrition to 3rd year veterinary students. I had 18 students in the class, which met every Wednesday from 1-3. I gave no lectures; only reading assignments and captivities that care conducted outside of class and reviewed in class as a group. The activities included conducting diet histories, both on animals and themselves), evaluating diets (including calling companies), finding and treating a case of obesity, creating owner handouts for nutrition-related issues, and conducting an evidence-based review of a topic of contemporary clinical interest.
I also used Piazza* as a method of submitting assignments, in hopes of having students read and comment on others’ work. They did very little of this, and although I did not require it for grading, or reward contributions in any special way, it did give them access to all student’s homework (which they know).
The students seemed to enjoy the format (Averaged SEI 4.4), were actively engaged in the discussions, and created very professional handouts. Their comments were generally positive and helpful in their suggestions to provide some “core” lectures, and more detailed guidelines for all assignments.
I think the class would have been even better yet if I had produced a few short videos on a few “ core” topics, maybe only 3 or 4, to clarify some concepts. One thing the format did do however was to uncover some student difficulties I had not appreciated in previous classes, which suggested to me which videos to make for future teaching. I also felt like this class moved painfully slowly, but it turned out that it was a rate that the students could handle, which taught me a lot.
–C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVN, Professor, Veterinary Clinical Sciences Community Practice and Dentistry
*From the Piazza website: “Piazza is an online platform where students and instructors come together to learn and teach. It offers a refined Q&A environment along with key features for effective course collaboration. We built Piazza to model the face-to-face discussion among students and instructors.” See here for help using Piazza with Carmen.
The Importance of Keeping It Fresh
Sadly, I would like to share my thoughts on a recent lecture I gave that was lackluster at best. My lecture was disappointing because both the students and I were bored by the presentation. This was not my intention. I sought to save time by largely re-using the same lecture from the previous year, thinking that this was the answer to the time crunch we are all under. I learned the hard way that lectures need to be fresh to me as well as the students. I was simply too bored with the lecture to be a good teacher. The lecture was not out of date so the students had no way of knowing it was basically the same lecture as the previous year. The only person that knew the difference was me, so I have only myself to blame. The next time I have the opportunity to give the lecture, I will compile slides for an entirely new and updated lecture and never re-use former lectures to keep the material fresh to me.
–a teacher in the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center
[There may be other ways to keep the material fresh for yourself, which would also enhance the learning environment for students. For example, consider "flipping the classroom." This entails having students spend time outside of class familiarizing themselves with the material that would ordinarily constitute the lectures. Then, instead of lecturing, you can spend class time working with that content, applying it, and responding to questions about it. There are many other ways of making the presentation of material more interactive so even if the content is the same as last year’s, the interactions with the students are new. See here for more ideas from your colleagues: Incorporating Digital Technologies; Course (Re)Design; and using the Summer to Gather Resources.]
Think-Pair-Share as Preparation for Class Discussion
One approach I used from the book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross** was to have students work with a partner to first summarize the overall concept of a novel they read in class in one word. Next, the pair was to explain why they chose that one word in relation to the themes of the reading. The resulting discussions of the book were much more in depth than I had expected, and led to great class discussion.
–Julius Mayo, Assistant Director of Academic Initiatives, Student Housing, Office of Student Life
** Excellent resource! This is one of our favorite and most used books at UCAT.
Developing Our Teaching Through Peer-to-Peer Observation
I had a very special opportunity this semester to shadow one of our senior faculty, Professor Melanie Bales, in her teaching as part of my teaching load. As an associate professor it is especially meaningful to have opportunities like this one for new thinking, new information and new connections. I made some contributions to the course as another faculty member in the room but mostly I was able to observe Professor Bales and the students and gather not only new information through the content (the course focused on Rudlof Laban’s theories of movement and their value in coaching and developing qualitative nuance in performance) but also pedagogical strategies. Professor Bales demands a level of specificity and rigor in the work through clear language and shared observation but maintains an atmosphere of discovery and fun. I learned from her to trust specificity. Sometimes as an interdisciplinary artist and teacher, I can find it hard to cover all the ground but perhaps depth contains within it a kind of breadth. When we go deeply into the characteristics of any single idea, object, or resource, new pathways unfold and connections are revealed. I hope that our department can allow for this kind of peer to peer faculty exchange more often in the future and am grateful to have had this kind of input at this time in my life as a teacher.
–Norah Zuniga Shaw, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University Department of Dance and Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD)
You can participate in more conversations about self-assessment and course redesign via Facebook and Twitter with #OSUVoices and #endofterm.