TAPcast S1E4: Matt Charnley and Sandra Medina on Active Learning

In this episode of TAPcast, we talk with Matt Charnley and Sandra Medina about their experiences with active learning. We discuss some potential difficulties in using active learning techniques as well as their strategies for overcoming those challenges. They share some of the activities they’ve incorporated into their classes that have gone well. Finally, they share some advice for new TAs who want to try using active learning.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

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Active Learning: What it is, Why we Care, and Resources at Rutgers

Active learning has had growing popularity in recent years, with departments and educators touting its importance and professional societies calling for broader implementation of it. But what is active learning? What evidence exists for its effectiveness? And what resources are available at Rutgers for those who want to incorporate more active learning strategies into their classrooms? This piece will provide some answers to those questions.

What is Active Learning?

There’s little consensus in the education literature on a concrete, self-contained definition of active learning – or of lecturing for that matter, as Hora (2014) points out. It tends to follow the paradigm of “I know it when I see it.” In most instances, however, teaching methods that involve student participation during class time outside of taking notes or listening to the instructor tend to be those considered “active.”

Even without a comprehensive definition of active learning, one can discuss some of the many forms it can take. The active learning spectrum is wide, with options for every type of class. Active learning can be used by the most hesitant educators looking for a small activity to incorporate into their lectures, staunch supporters eager to expand its use, and everyone in between. The American Mathematics Society has an article summarizing many of these options. Though the intended audience is Mathematicians, much of the content of the article is applicable to other fields. For more information and ideas on types of active learning, the challenges to implementation, and resources at Rutgers, check out the teaching tools from the Rutgers Active Learning Community or see Resources below.

Making the Case for Active Learning

Like any new teaching method, active learning needs to be scrutinized for its effect on student learning outcomes. Thankfully, there is a mountain of educational literature studying exactly this. Some examples include Prince’s 2013 literature review and McCarthy and Anderson’s (2000) study of role-playing in History and Political Science. Of particular note is the meta-analysis in Freeman et. al. (2014). In this study, the authors analyzed hundreds of research projects which compare active learning to traditional lecture in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses. The results are dramatic, and they are best illustrated by the oft-quoted line on page 4 of the article:

“If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discontinued because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial. ” (Freeman et. al., 2014 page 4)

 

Resources for Active Learning

Excited to give active learning a try, but don’t know where to start? Have you used active learning already and want some fresh ideas to incorporate into your teaching? Here’s a few resources at Rutgers that may help.

TAPcast S1E3: Michael Weingart on Math for Non-Majors and Flipped/Hybrid Courses

 

In this episode of TAPcast, we talk with Associate Teaching Professor Michael Weingart from the Department of Mathematics. We discuss selected math courses  for non-majors and his efforts to create hybrid and flipped models of those courses. Specifically, I ask him about the pros and cons of such approaches and what goes into creating them. Finally, he offers some advice for those interested in creating flipped or hybrid courses.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

TAPcast S1E2: Kristina Howansky on Controversial Topics and Diversity in the Classroom

 

In this episode of TAPcast, we talk to Kristina Howansky, a current PhD candidate in the School of Graduate Studies at Rutgers University studying Social Psychology. Our conversation focuses on her strategies for and experiences with classroom discussions about controversial topics. I ask her about strategies for setting the right tone early in the course, ways to moderate the discussion with as little bias from personal feelings as possible, and tips for helping students to feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences. We also talk about diversity in the classroom and how that can affect these difficult conversations, as well as what these conversations look like in a hybrid course. Finally, Kristina tells us about getting students engaged and motivated though growth mindsets and comedy, such as her “potato project.” 

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

TAPcast S1E1: Senior Associate Dean Barbara E. Bender and the TA Project

 

In this inaugural episode of TAPcast, we hear from Senior Associate Dean Barbara E. Bender, the Director of the TA Project. We talk about what the TA Project is and how it got started. We discuss how it has evolved and what it looks like today. Finally, we spend some time talking about the motivation behind training new graduate student TAs.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Introducing: TAPcast

 

The Rutgers University School of Graduate Studies’ TA Project has launched a brand new podcast: TAPcast. Listen to hear professors, graduate students, administrators, and other members of the Rutgers educational community discuss multiple issues regarding pedagogy in the contemporary classroom.

You can find us on all your favorite podcast apps like iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, TuneIn Radio, and Google Play Music. Or, you can listen to us right here on our blog!

The first episode, which provides a history and overview of the TA Project, airs on Monday, September 3, and features the Director of the TA Project, Senior Associate Dean  Studies Barbara Bender. New episodes will be released every other week from September through April.

Subscribe and learn more about current trends in university instruction, hear creative tips about managing your time in and out of the classroom, and discover resources for expanding your pedagogical repertoire.

Making a Strong Start to a New Semester

The first few weeks of class usually set the pattern for the semester. Making a strong start requires that teachers communicate their expectations to the class in an effective manner. What is said and done during the first few weeks of a class may determine the outcome of the semester for many students.

On the most obvious level, students have a right to know what will be required of them during the semester. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • papers, exams, and/or projects;
  • policies on attendance, late assignments class participation, etc; and
  • how final grades will be calculated.

You should also provide a detailed syllabus which states this information. If all has been carefully prepared and explained at the beginning of the semester, and no surprises are sprung later in the semester, students have no grounds for complaints.

Perhaps less obvious but equally important are the other messages that must be conveyed. Unless students get a sense that the teacher views them as capable adults on equal footing with all others in the class, they will almost certainly not respond to the class with active participation and enthusiasm. Students need to get the message from their teachers that they will be treated with honesty, respect, and fairness.

Treating students honestly does not mean being brutal or cruel. If, indeed, the truth sometimes hurts, it may be because the truthsayer, in many cases, seeks to hurt rather than help. Every student has weaknesses in one area or another; rather than focusing on the students’ weakness alone, look also at the students’ strengths. Let all the students understand that you regard them as capable, especially those who are experiencing difficulties in the class. Don’t portray a student’s problem as failure; transform it into an opportunity to approach a problem in a different way.

It is important, however, always to be open and honest with students about grades. Kindness doesn’t mean glossing over a students’ bad performance on a test or a paper. Work with the student to set realistic goals and then determine what level of work will be necessary to reach these goals.

Respecting students as individuals is another crucial element in creating an environment where students are able to learn. Encourage them to think independently and to express their ideas without fear of ridicule. Pay attention to students when they speak; for some undergraduates it is extremely difficult, almost painful; to speak up in class—an inattentive or joking response could inhibit that student from participating in the future.

Be fair to all students. Do not just teach to the three smartest students or to the majors, ignoring the rest. Set high expectations for all of your students. Research has shown that students work up (or down) to the expectations of the teacher. Give up on your students and they will give up on the class; inspire students to put forth their best efforts and they may surprise you and, even, themselves.

(Originally posted on 1/22/2106)

Register for a Fall 2017 workshop

Each semester TAP offers free workshops to assist TAs with their continued professional development. Students who attend at least four sessions in a particular workshop series (listed below) will receive a certificate of participation.

Preparing for the Professoriate

Teaching with Technology

 

Incoming Students with Strong Prior Beliefs

We often come across students who simply state, “They aren’t good at this ‘stuff.'” Having such a strong prior belief of one’s own capability can have negative effects. In particular, it can result in “fulfilling” the prophecy that they had written for themselves. How do we weaken these beliefs?

Dr. Melissa Wehler suggests 5 tips to resolve such an issue in this article. Check it out!

If your classroom was a movie genre .. what would it be?

Dr. Vincent Genareo argues that the classroom should have the same elements as a zombie movie (see article here).

According to Dr. Vincent Genareo, there are the six zombie movie characteristics that can help improve the classroom:

  1. Hook: grab the students’ attention
  2. Collaboration: implement group activities
  3. Problem Solving: allow opportunities for students to apply course material
  4. Risk-Taking: encourage students to master material despite possible failure
  5. Humor: relate to students
  6. Hope: provide feedback to students to demonstrate their progress in the course*

What movie genre is your classroom?

* I would also include in this element that you should summarize all students’ mistakes — from experience, students feel relief that they are not the only ones that made the same mistakes. This also gives you, as the instructor, a sense where your instruction may need improvement!