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What is Active Learning (5:34)
Creating Courses for Adults: Design for Learning
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2016
Ralf St. Clair’s instructive book on designing courses will provide helpful guidance to new professors and a meaningful review to those seasoned in the classroom, along with some potentially new material for those veterans. Divided into ten well-defined chapters, Creating Courses for Adults walks readers through the learning theory associated with the adult student population, as well as the practical logistics of designing different kinds of courses for different adult populations. The array of courses discussed range from online for credit instruction to non-credit onsite education for trade school students. Taking seriously the role and the needs of the professor and not just the students, St. Clair begins with a welcomed and affirming chapter, “All About You,” which includes a very helpful section entitled, “Why Who You Are and What You’ve Done Matters.” While this book accepts that teaching is about the students, the author accepts the often unappreciated fact that teaching is also about the needs of the professors, who feel a sense of vocation to this work.
St. Clair operates out of the helpful notion that “nobody is an intuitive or completely natural teacher” (page xii), a claim that will challenge seasoned instructors to continue to plan and will encourage new professors with their often unarticulated sense of intimidation. Several chapters are especially rich in what they provide the planning process. Chapter three, “Context Drives Design,” makes distinctions among formal learning, non-formal learning, and informal learning. Adult learners may bring previous experience in formal learning to the classroom, since formal learning is education that leads to a diploma or certificate. They will certainly bring experience in non-formal learning, such as that experienced in an open-ended group, and informal learning, which refers to learning achieved through everyday activities. In fact, the latter two learning experiences can so shape the approach to education of adult learners that it becomes difficult for them to embrace a world of formal learning, even if it is adult-education friendly. For this reason, teachers must give some thought in course design to preparing students for the particular educational context that the course provides.
St. Clair also offers helpful approaches to online learning. In addition to a useful bibliography of online course design material, St. Clair proposes that design issues in online education do not fundamentally differ from onsite education. Citing current literature that explains online course design, St. Clair concludes that the best literature provides questions for online course design that do not substantially differ from face-to-face education. While acknowledging that his conclusion will not be universally accepted, St. Clair nonetheless provides an affirmation that online education can be informed by the same theoretical approaches that guide other forms of education.
Readers wanting an accessible approach to course design, grounded in both theory and application, will find St. Clair’s Creating Courses for Adults to be valuable. The book belongs in the collection of any teaching and learning center of higher education for its content and its current bibliography.
Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom
Date Reviewed: May 13, 2016
On one hand, lectures are ethically questionable. On the other, lectures are essential. So much depends on the details. Personal style, class size, topic du jour, student readiness to explore topics, and so forth. A lecture is necessary in ...
I have a confession to make: I have flipped my courses and agree with Waldrop and Bowdon that using lecture classes as a control in future experiments is probably unethical.
On one hand, lectures are ethically questionable. On the other, lectures are essential. So much depends on the details. Personal style, class size, topic du jour, student readiness to explore topics, and so forth. A lecture is necessary in order to deliver particular skills and concepts.
In the flipped learning model, educators are more important than ever and teaching can be even more demanding. This is where Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom speaks to instructors in higher education. The editors have gathered strategies “across a broad spectrum of academic disciplines, physical environments, and student populations…. [in the] hope that this book will inspire further research in other disciplines” (12).
Chapters are case studies, with each course described in terms of format, enrollment, instructor’s strategies, and research methods. Each chapter ends with practical suggestions. The disciplines include chemistry and calculus (chapters 2, 3), nursing and psychology (chapters 4, 6), history and economics (chapters 5, 8). A marketing course is covered in chapter 7 and a creativity class in chapter 9. The case studies are bookended by a helpful Introduction, “Joining the Flipped Classroom Conversation” (chapter 1), and two closing chapters: “Student Practices and Perceptions” (chapter 10) and “Conclusion: Reflecting on the Flipping Experience” (chapter 11).
Katherine Sauer’s description of her work in her microeconomics classroom (chapter 8) is of particular interest. What she does in her discipline informs and echoes much of what I do as a professor of religious studies. Her fundamental question is simply this: “In order to help my students learn, what is the best use of my face-to-face time with them?” (112).
Sauer provides a worksheet to help instructors identify course learning outcomes, intermediate objectives, key terms, and ideas. She also notes the importance of reading guides and careful development of “pre-class materials” (homework assignments in its many forms, from readings to videos to screencasts). Students come to class prepared for work. It is her contention that prepared students are incentivized; students use their completed reading guides (notes!) for success with short quizzes at the very beginning of class. While she does not explicitly reference Bloom’s Taxonomy, she pushes lower levels of the taxonomy (such as quiz content) outside the classroom. She uses class time for activity that is identified by upper levels of the taxonomy: application, analysis, evaluation, and creation. The result is that more material gets covered. Students spend more time outside of class with the material, students arrive prepared, and the class as a whole is ready for work. The classroom becomes a lab (my word, not hers) for active learning through critical thinking, collaboration, and reflection. Students are “primed,” instruction is spontaneous and relevant, and instructors think on their feet.
The conclusion (chapter 11) provides the authors’ perspectives on key issues: (1) motivations for flipping, (2) favorite techniques and strategies, (3) motivating students to prepare for class, (4) benefits, challenges, and rewards, and (5) types of support needed. The editors wrap up with final words of advice (151-154). This could serve as both a helpful reference and “go to” guide for flipping a classroom. They write, “prepare to be impressed with what your students produce” (154). Flipping a classroom is not for the faint of heart, but it will enliven your teaching and put you in good company.
Understanding Bible by Design: Create Courses with Purpose
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2016
Lester, Webster, and Jones came together from different academic contexts to create a practical, succinct resource for professors on course design. Lester and his co-authors set out to demonstrate how the principles of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s 2005 updated Understanding by Design (UbD) model can be applied to theological or religious disciplines in higher education. UbD is a method for designing courses that intentionally fulfill the instructor’s stated course goals from day one.
UbD is a learner-centered approach intended to focus on the macro-level objectives of the course. UbD seeks to generate courses where each class is connected clearly with the objectives. Lester finds that UbD works best for course units or individual lessons in his Master’s level courses on the Bible. He provides helpful examples of how he applies the concepts of UbD to his teaching approach or assessment of assignments. While Lester uses the model’s “essential questions” to structure course units, the other authors show how UbD could apply to an entire course.
For teachers of undergraduates, Webster’s chapter is very insightful. She provides in-depth examples of the types of assignments she assigns, exam questions and “metaquestions” utilized throughout the course. For her New Testament course, Webster assigns sixteen one- to two-page papers that build on each other and advance students’ writing skills. This is an ideal assignment for any instructor, but it must be noted that all three authors have teaching loads lighter than a typical small liberal arts college faculty member’s teaching load of 4/4 or 4/3. Nevertheless, such assignments constitute a helpful resource for all higher education teachers.
The final chapter demonstrates how the principles applied by Lester and Webster aid in developing non-biblical courses. Here Jones writes about his successes and failures as he developed his courses on Rituals and Early Judaism for the first time. The benefit of this chapter is the honest analysis of how he set up his course and his own reflections on the results, including pitfalls for new followers of the UbD model and thoughts on the unique pressures of teaching at a college or university for the first time.
The chapter on creating an online course is less effective because half of the chapter is a general defense of online teaching. The other half of the chapter lacks the type of precision one finds in the other chapters since it does not include a specific course as an example.
This small volume is a great resource and quick reference for graduate students, new professors, and professors who have had little guidance on teaching. Each author introduces the concepts of Understanding by Design in a succinct and accessible manner that moves smoothly through the thought process of implementing it. For anyone who has been teaching for a longer period of time, the book could be a good resource for modifying current courses. While the work is geared toward courses on the Bible, the concepts can be transferred effortlessly to nearly any other theological discipline.
Building a Pathway for Student Learning: A How-To Guide to Course Design
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
There are many important discussions happening in the academy about how to re-envision the student experience in order to provide better learning opportunities. The culture of higher education is undergoing a shift from an instruction-centered model to a learning or student-centered paradigm. These discussions are extremely significant in that they force faculty to re-evaluate and re-envision the traditional models – and ultimately lead to a more thorough and permanent education for the students. However, many of these studies are difficult since ways of applying these new theoretical models is often not immediately obvious. In Building a Pathway for Student Learning, Jones, Noyd, and Sagendorf have compiled a comprehensive and effective workbook addressing this lack.
The workbook represents the results of a faculty development course design retreat that the authors have conducted for the last several years. This is not a book about course design, it is a systematic workbook giving direction for designing a learning-centered course in any discipline. At every stage in the course design process, the reader is reminded that, “our success ultimately comes not from what we as instructors are able to do but from what our students learn as a result of taking our courses” (9). To this end, the following pathway is suggested for effective course design. First, know the students you will teach. Second, identify the course learning goals. Third, build a summative assessment to determine the extent to which students have accomplished the learning goals. Fourth, develop a list of learning proficiencies that are required to successfully accomplish the learning goals, and then sequence them. Fifth, create learning experiences that will allow students to build and develop the central proficiencies, and to accomplish the learning goals. Sixth, construct several formative assessments, and use them to evaluate student progress toward the core proficiencies, which will encourage student improvement.
After going through each of these stages, the authors lead the reader through two synthetic activities: creating a course poster and syllabus. The course poster assembles the learning experiences to be utilized in class, the proficiencies that will be developed, the way these proficiencies will be assessed, and the goal of the class, in order to ensure coherence and alignment within the course, and to transparently display the structure of the course to students. The syllabus is envisioned as a tool to demonstrate the learning-centered design of the course, not just the course policies and assignments. Each of these synthetic steps is aided by the use of the companion website.
The workbook has much to commend. First, each chapter contains a helpful and thorough survey of the more significant research on the topic under consideration. Second, the system suggested to redesign courses is logically ordered, and effective. Third, at several key points the authors suggest proactive ways of finding evaluation of stages in the course design from colleagues. Most importantly, the authors recognize that effective course design has to be a flexible system; they do not claim to have all the answers for how every course can best be structured, rather they provide a series of guiding questions so that individual instructors can think through how to order their classes so that they effectively take students from wherever they begin, to the acquisition of central proficiencies and the accomplishment of learning goals, whatever the discipline. For these reasons, this book should be essential for anyone developing or revising courses towards a learning-centered model.