Sunday, January 31, 2016

How can we get students actively engaged in learning? (report from a workshop I attended)

A few days ago I attended a symposium about promoting active learning organized by my university. Here are some of the things I learnt. There is a lot of interest currently in "flipping the classroom". We learnt that a new tool that is available to make flipping the classroom a little easier is Perusall. When you add your PDF to this system, students can annotate it collaboratively and ask questions. You will then be provided with a report, so you can adjust your teaching to the student's questions. With some magical algorithm, the system is also able to grade the quality of the students' comments, although I am a little suspicious of that, I must say.

Luckily there are also quite a few non-electronic ideas to "wake up" your students, which I picked up in a workshop by Jasmijn Bloemert. A good start of a lesson is to ask students what they hope to get out of it, and to write it down. Asking the student to think about their objective directs their attention away from the preceding events and towards the learning that will take place in the classroom. Moreover, it creates a sort of contract that they can go back to, to check whether they are getting out of the class what they want to. Writing things down is helpful because it makes the intentions more real than just holding them in your mind.

Lectures often consist of a lot of dense material. To help the student navigate that, it is often useful to give them a question that they need to find the answer to. In that way, they have a target to keep track of. You can alternatively ask them to come up with question about what they just heard, or simply to compare notes with a fellow classmate.
here I am attending a different workshop on teaching, a few years ago, at the UOGC (University of Groningen Teachers Education Centre)

Frequently students don't speak up for fear of making mistakes. To get them to speak up, you can ask them questions that do not have right or wrong answers, such as "how do you feel about this? Is it positive or negative for you? Another good trick to draw out people's interest is to show them a puzzling picture (or quote, or other type of material) and ask them to guess what it is or what it means. In a similar vein, you could show two "things" (e.g., pictures) on the screen and ask students to find the differences.I guess this will be hard for the course Research Methods that I will soon be teaching, but it may work well for courses that involve more concrete "things."

Teaching the reading of difficult material can also be made more social by asking students to underline the most important sentences of a passage, and then asking them to compare notes on what was underlined, and finally to come up with a summary of the text in one sentence. Doing this really helps you to find the essence of a text. I may try this out with research papers in one class where I read the primary literature with students. It is often difficult for them to draw out the essence of a paper, and this exercise may help them to develop this "helicopter view" of the material.

Finally, there was an interesting method used often in America called "teachers teach." At some random moment in the lecture, the lecturer claps their hands three times, and students have to immediately teach each other what they just heard. It is a very high energy method, but kind of fun, and encourages students to think on their feet (if they are willing to do it, of course). Altogether, I acquired some fun ideas in this workshop. I will definitely try out some of these in my upcoming classes.

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