active learning

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Reviewed by: Mary Stimming
Date Reviewed: 2018-08-07
Cathy N. Davidson’s The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux is an engaging, enlightening, and empowering call to action. Though its focus is on why and how to transform higher education to meet the needs of today’s students and society, it offers commentary on innovative and effective pedagogy that will be of special interest to Wabash Center readers. If ...

Cathy N. Davidson’s The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux is an engaging, enlightening, and empowering call to action. Though its focus is on why and how to transform higher education to meet the needs of today’s students and society, it offers commentary on innovative and effective pedagogy that will be of special interest to Wabash Center readers.

If you only have time for a condensed version of Davidson’s recommendations for improving college teaching, read the “Ten Tips for Transforming Any Classroom for Active Student-Centered Learning” (263-67). Davidson lauds 10 techniques: Think-Pair-Share, Question Stacking, Everybody Raise Your Hand, Interview, Class Constitution, Collective Syllabus Design, Collaborative Note Taking, Collaborative Projects with Peer Assessment, Exit Tickets, and Public Contribution to Knowledge. In keeping with Davidson’s central thesis, these techniques serve to invigorate learning in college courses, but their ultimate value is that they best prepare students for life beyond the college gates.

Indeed, it is the demands of modern life that prompts Davidson to argue for radically revising the university. America’s system of higher education has reified, she argues, the vision of Charles Eliot, president of Harvard in the late 1800s. Eliot sought (most notably in his essay entitled “The New Education” from which Davidson takes her title) to transform America’s colleges from seminary systems to institutions designed “to train farmers and shopkeepers to be factory workers and office managers” (3). In pursuit of this goal, Eliot, and fellow educational reformers, established the university as we know it:

  • majors, minors, divisions (humanities, social sciences, natural and biological sciences), credit hours, degree requirements, grades, the bell curve . . . class rankings, certification, general education, upper-division electives, . . . professionalization (credentials, accreditation), graduate schools . . . financial aid, college entrance exams . . . tenure . . . school rankings . . . (35-36)

and more. By 1925, Eliot’s vision (shaped by his study of German and French models) dominated the landscape of American higher education.

Not much has changed, Davidson laments. These features continue to define the college experience for most Americans. But now, they come with anemic “teaching to the test” at all levels of education, crushing student debt, and graduates narrowly trained for specialties that are fast disappearing in the technology-laden world in which we live.

Against the current state of affairs, Davidson argues for pedagogy and universities to center on students and aim at preparation for life, not just careers. Davidson documents how the shift from the Industrial Age to our current age (which she dates at 1993 with the dawn of the Internet) has yet to be taken seriously by academics. Doing so, she insists, demands radical rethinking of the college experience.

To illustrate the types of changes she advocates as proper responses to the technological age, Davidson points to community colleges and initiatives at universities. LaGuardia Community College in NYC, Arizona State University, and The Red House at Georgetown University receive the lion’s share of her attention. And for good reason. Education at these schools is being rethought and retooled to serve the student and his/her future needs. Actually, as Davidson notes, community colleges have been doing this all along. Founded to serve non-elite students, community colleges succeed by proceeding “from a pedagogy of acceptance. Any growth constitutes success. The student is at the center” (57).

Although active learning and student-centered pedagogy benefit students, it is not risk-free. Fear of “losing status” causes many professors and institutions to shy away from adopting the mindset and support systems community colleges embrace. To illustrate the risks, Davidson recounts the story of Alexander Coward, formerly of Berkeley . . . formerly because allegedly his student-centered pedagogy did not sit well with his colleagues (208-210).

In addition to the aforementioned “Ten Tips,” those primarily interested in pedagogical issues should read Chapter 3, “Against Technophobia,” and Chapter 4, “Against Technophilia.” Within these two chapters, Davidson offers many, many helpful hints for how to use technology imaginatively and effectively in the classroom.

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The Blended Course Design Workbook: A Practical Guide

Book-Review
Linder, Kathryn E.
2017
Stylus Publishing, Llc.
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Tags: active learning   |   course design   |   hybrid classrooms

Reviewed by: Steven C. Ibbotson
Date Reviewed: 2017-07-06
For the faculty member transitioning a course from face-to-face (F2F) to an online or blended learning environment, Kathryn Linder’s workbook is a wonderful resource. After opening with a couple chapters reviewing the key components of backward course design, developing appropriate course learning objectives, and assessment, the remaining chapters provide a step-by-step guide for an instructor to convert a course from a physical to a virtual teaching space. The ...

For the faculty member transitioning a course from face-to-face (F2F) to an online or blended learning environment, Kathryn Linder’s workbook is a wonderful resource. After opening with a couple chapters reviewing the key components of backward course design, developing appropriate course learning objectives, and assessment, the remaining chapters provide a step-by-step guide for an instructor to convert a course from a physical to a virtual teaching space. The chapters cover a variety of topics including effective learning activities, assessment methods, creating a social presence, using and creating multimedia, and social media engagement.

Each chapter contains a short introduction to the pedagogical theory behind the topic (What Do We Know About…) followed by a series of guiding questions, worksheets, and templates for incorporating the theory into course development (A Step-by-Step Guide to…). After a summary of the key ideas, there are questions for faculty and administrators, followed by a graphic that illustrates course design steps and additions. Online resources are often noted for additional planning. An instructor or administrator is provided with all the tools and resources necessary for working through the process in a hands-on, orderly fashion.

The book’s main strength is its highly practical nature, highlighted by the ready-to-use worksheets, templates, and checklists for every step in the process. Not only does it explain the desired resources, it usually gives real-life examples of how the tool was used in a blended classroom effectively.

Another strength of this book is Linder’s ability to translate and explain technological tasks reasonably for the technophobe. Without talking down, she methodically explains technical components in understandable and achievable action steps for readers. Equally important, she recognizes that schools use different types of technology (for example, Learning Management System), and identifies the major software, programs, and platforms available, accounting for this variety in her instructions.

There is little to offer by way of criticism of the book. More than adequate appendices and glossaries complete an already copious amount of resources. The solid reference section supports the extensive research, clearly supporting the material.

Given the practical nature of this workbook and its many ready-to-copy worksheets, it is strongly recommended for faculty members transitioning a classroom course to a blended or online delivery format. Likewise, academic deans leading a group of faculty through a similar transition process will find this a one-stop resource, especially if they are able to partner with an educational technologist.

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A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice

Book-Review
Baepler, Paul; Walker, J.D.; Brooks, D. Christorpher; Saichaie, Kem; and Petersen, Christina I.
2016
Stylus Publishing, Llc.
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Tags: active learning   |   classroom management   |   constructivist and active learning theory

Reviewed by: Marie Nuar
Date Reviewed: 0000-00-00
This book examines a particular type of classroom organization known as the “active learning classroom.” This type of classroom is not a lecture hall, but rather, is a room where there is no clear front or back, where students sit in movable chairs around round tables that facilitate group work shared with the larger group via screens. The very organization of the classroom forces the professor to have their back ...

This book examines a particular type of classroom organization known as the “active learning classroom.” This type of classroom is not a lecture hall, but rather, is a room where there is no clear front or back, where students sit in movable chairs around round tables that facilitate group work shared with the larger group via screens. The very organization of the classroom forces the professor to have their back to at least some of the students all the time. This type of classroom interaction seems to be designed for larger class sizes, helping to transform a large lecture hall of students into a classroom where teacher and student interaction, as well as student-to-student interaction, is maximized. These types of classrooms have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ grades, which could be attributed to the room configuration inhibiting certain negative activities while encouraging positive ones. Active learning classrooms provide four main advantages: “immersion learning, the social dimension of learning, collaborative learning, and the performance aspect of teaching and learning” (16). Teaching in an active learning classroom is no longer just transmission of knowledge but a collaborative effort engaging the students for better and more long-term retention of knowledge.

The subtitle of the book is “History, Research, and Practice. The history of this method of teaching is covered in chapter one. The research that supports the practice is the focus of chapters two and three. Chapter two focuses more on the research aspects while chapter three focuses on the role that social interactions have in learning. The core of the book, chapters three through eight, gives practical suggestions on how to implement the teaching method, and presents common difficulties and how to overcome them. The last three chapters focus on how to help professors learn this method of teaching, a suggested methodology on how to study whether the change of teaching method had a positive impact on student learning, and what the future might hold for this teaching method.

The book advocates a particular physical organization of the classroom. This is not up to the individual professors, but to the institutions in which they work. Even if one does not have the particular physical layout advocated in this book, there are a number of helpful tips for professors who seek to more actively engage their students. With chapters titled, “Assignments and Activities,” “Managing Student Groups,” and “Assessment and Feedback,” it is easy to find practical suggestions on how to make the classroom less didactic and more engaged. Each chapter has helpful and clear subheadings that make it easy to scan for the topic that one needs. Many of these methods are helpful in the religious studies classroom to help engage the student for a greater learning outcome. The examples in the book range from the sciences through to the humanities, helping a humanities professor get ideas on means of implementing the method in their own classroom.

 

My teacher training focused on goals and assessment. When I conduct workshops on teaching and whenever I am asked for advice on teaching, I tell instructors to clarify goals and work backward. Two years ago I gave a presentation on technology in the classroom. I included a laundry list of ...

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A Toolkit for College Professors

Book-Review
Cipriano, Robert E., and Buller, Jeffrey L.
2015
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
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Tags: active learning   |   critically reflective teaching   |   faculty development   |   learner centered teaching

Reviewed by: Joanne Robinson
Date Reviewed: 2016-09-07
This book is pitched to college and university faculty at all career stages, and it stands out from other books in this category because of its research-based findings and its thoughtful case studies. The authors based their guidance on a year-long research study of 688 faculty from a wide range of institutions as well as on years of personal professional experience. The book covers the major aspects of an academic career: ...

This book is pitched to college and university faculty at all career stages, and it stands out from other books in this category because of its research-based findings and its thoughtful case studies. The authors based their guidance on a year-long research study of 688 faculty from a wide range of institutions as well as on years of personal professional experience. The book covers the major aspects of an academic career: effective teaching and promoting student success, defining and facilitating collegiality and positive relationships within departments and with administration, conducting research, performing effective service to the institution or guild, and moving through the ranks to tenure and beyond. This book’s strengths include the liberal use of longer case studies and shorter scenarios, each of which works through a series of questions and proposed resolutions (for case studies) and a challenge question and outcome (for scenarios). The initial warm-up questions are often quite broad (for example, “Is there any general advice you think might be helpful to your friend?” [6]) while later questions tend to be more specific and thoughtful, requiring the reader to consider multiple factors and angles within one scenario. These vignettes were well written and thoughtfully prepared, and on the whole they engage the reader quite effectively. That the scenarios are so clearly taken from actual experience makes them more valuable, especially to newer faculty members who haven’t yet seen it all.

Two chapters of this guide focus specifically on teaching. The first, titled “Teaching Effectively in the Classroom,” strongly promotes active learning over lecturing. The case studies in this section deal with common problems, such as how to respond to poor results in student evaluations and what to do when the entire class fails an exam. This chapter emphasizes the importance of learning how to teach large courses effectively, although the authors do include a section at the end of the chapter on “teachniques” for teaching smaller courses. Many new faculty and older faculty who are retooling will find this chapter a useful primer. The second chapter focuses on “Promoting Student Success and Engagement,” with a focus on developing friendly but not-too-familiar relationships with students. Using research and experience, the authors explain the pivotal importance of faculty in shaping students’ lives and ways of thinking well beyond the classroom.

Taken together, these two chapters address many issues of interest to readers of this journal, and the remainder of the book is equally valuable for those looking for guidance and food for thought. As a guide designed for all faculty, this book necessarily elides issues of race and gender, for instance, that significantly shape faculty experience. That said, the book accomplishes much in a short space, and each chapter of the book is short and well-structured. Above all, this book uses the very techniques it suggests for effective teaching, and new faculty members in particular will find themselves better prepared for everyday faculty life after thinking through these realistic case studies.