The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator
Prepping for the Active Learning Classroom

Prepping for the Active Learning Classroom

It’s time. My midlife crisis this summer about how I teach students is hitting the pavement Monday. I decided in the summer after attending a number of conferences and learning about active learning, that I was done with talking for an entire 50 minutes of lecture. Sure, I pause and ask questions and get students to interact a little with each other. But for the most part, I was in control of the time and delivering all the material.

Mary Pat Wenderoth’s talk at Experimental Biology 2019 started my restlessness with typical lectures. Then, The Times Higher Education World Summit reinforced these same thoughts about teaching and learning. By the time I got to the Western Conference on Science Education, WCSE, I was a mess. In a good way. I was also convinced that changing my approach to lectures was necessary for my own well-being. I was getting very frustrated with the student responses to the previous style of a traditional lecture. I was feeling so low by the end of the last academic year that it was either change my method or change my career.

But I am earnestly terrified. I realize that I have done some active learning with students already, but in small amounts, or designed through tutorials. I knew that I wanted to make the change, I just didn’t know how precisely I was going to achieve that in a 400+ group of students.

I realized early on that I needed concrete material for my students to read. Our teaching team and course does not have a mandatory text, so I wrote the text that I wanted the students to read prior to class. This was a huge undertaking, but I have the writing bug, so I invested in generating the resource. Next, I wanted ways to communicate with the students inside and out of class that would foster interactions also between students. I knew about Socrative, a free web-based clicker, and have tried it before with smaller groups. Since I am just one member of the team of faculty that lecture in this course, I couldn’t with good conscious demand a paid version for students to use. Lastly, I wanted a collaborative whiteboard tool and have opted to go with Jamboard, an app that is part of Google Drive. Again, free and fairly easy to use.

I am excited and nervous about tomorrow. I was warned that baby steps into the process of converting the class into a more active one were better. I understand the reasoning for that advice, but I needed to jump all in. I have my in-class activities planned, my mini-lectures ready to intersperse and my tablet to deliver some just in time teaching should new questions arise. It has been an enormous amount of work to change how I spend time in lectures with my students.

My experiment could flop OR it could be the best thing I’ve ever done with my students. It may take a little convincing the group who may or may not have experienced a student-centered learning environment, but I am willing to take the time to persuade them. Wish me luck!!!

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