Monday, November 30, 2015

Week 6: Public Speaking and Gaining Confidence

This week Huanyu (Joe) Qiao led a discussion entitled “Public Speaking and Gaining Confidence.”  We watched two example speeches delivered by Lance Miller and Hans Rosling respectively.
Here are the links for the two speeches:
1.      Miller’s speech:

After watching the first speech, we discussed the guidelines for how to prepare a good public talk based on the manual of the Toastmaster International Club:
·         Organize Your Speech — Introduce the basic concepts of organizing a speech around a speech outline.
·         Get to the Point — Clearly state your speech goal, and make sure that every element of your speech focuses on that goal.
·         How to Say It — Examine word choice, sentence structure, and rhetorical devices.
·         Your Body Speaks — Complement words with posture, stance, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact.
·         Vocal Variety — Guides you to add life to your voice with variations in pitch, pace, power, and pauses.
·         Research Your Topic — Addresses the importance of backing up your arguments with evidence, and touches on the types of evidence to use.
·         Get Comfortable With Visual Aids — Examines the use of slides, transparencies, flip charts, whiteboards, or props.

We also discussed how to gain confidence in front of your audiences:
·         As a teacher, be confident in your expertise in your field!
·         Practice makes perfect.
·         Have a detailed plan before you enter the classroom.
·         Take a deep breath before you start to give the talk.

Rosling’s talk demonstrates how to effectively use visual aids in a speech or a class.
We discussed several techniques that Hans Rosling used in his speech (
  • Explain the data axes
  • Highlight subsets of data
  • Dig deeper to unwrap data
  • Place labels close to data points
  • Answer the “Why?” questions
  • Complement data with energetic delivery

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Week 5: Lesson Planning

For our meeting this week we talked about lesson planning. More specifically, we discussed the various lesson planning techniques we have used in the past, and whether or not they were effective for us. We also talked about our personal experiences as students, and what we thought worked best for us in the classroom. To summarize, we all seemed to appreciate when professors structure their courses in a way that gets across why it is relevant, and that focuses on teaching things that directly relate to the exams they give. We also tended to like when instructors teach abstract concepts by providing examples of how they work in practice. A general theme seemed to be that good lesson plans are centered around good prep work, clarity of purpose, and content that connects to students.

After all of that preliminary stuff was out of the way, we broke into a rather lively discussion. I started it off by detailing a lesson planning technique I had discovered in my research, Madeline Hunter’s “Drill That Skill” technique, which basically centers around an instructor providing consistent guidance and repetitive examples so as to ensure that students learn material properly the first time they try it. The general reception to this technique was lukewarm at best, mainly because it lacks innovation, and because it might lead to students who know how to do something without knowing why they are able to do it.

Next I summarized the lesson planning technique known as “constructivism,” which is basically a fancy way of saying “the teacher or professor guides students through active learning techniques” in a way that eventually gives them the ability to “learn how to learn.” In our discussion of constructivism, we talked about how it is important to make students accountable for things they are supposed to learn on their own, which can be done either through constant pestering from the instructor, or a graded quiz or examination.

After that our discussion trailed off a bit after one GTC member had questions about how they could improve their sections. Numerous other members made helpful suggestions and tried to give them various techniques (many of which we had talked about earlier) that could help them better connect to their students and encourage more participation and excitement towards the course material.

We closed with a discussion of what was probably everyone’s favorite lesson planning technique: backward design. To put it simply, backward design basically requires you to look at your course...backwards. It is centered around establishing goals you want your class to reach, coming up with effective ways to measure their understanding, and implementing activities that allow your class to reach the initial goals you set. This differs from traditional lesson plans in that you are not just creating a list of things you want your students to know and praying that you are able to get all of that through to them by the time your course is over. Backward design promotes teaching with an endgame in mind, which is useful both for the instructor and their students.

All that said, the truth of the matter is that no one lesson plan is ever going to address the specific needs of all of your students all of the time. The key is to try and do the best you can to connect to as many of your students as possible, which hopefully we will all be able to do just a bit more effectively after this week’s discussion.

For more information on the lesson planning techniques discussed above, check out these links:

- Nick Garcia

Monday, November 2, 2015

Week 4: Maintaining Professionalism

This week we discussed the idea of "professionalism" and how it relates to fostering student (and mentor) success. 

To begin the meeting, we talked about past mentors that we regarded as our "favorite" professors. As each person described their pick, a mental portrait was painted in my head, and I felt as if I knew these teachers I had never met. It seemed that every professor shared certain qualities (like being knowledgeable about their field and being able to convey material effectively) but were extremely unique as well. This lead into discussion about "the ideal professor." 

Like most topics discussed in great detail, we concluded that promoting "professionalism" is not so black and white. It largely seems to deal with conducting oneself in a way that allows for balance between being a leader and friend to one's students. There are definitely some surefire practices that every teacher should follow like staying up to date with what's happening in your field, wearing appropriate attire, being punctual, and conveying enthusiasm. But, "the most effective way to teach" seems to be an oxymoron. There are a thousand different ways to run a classroom, and none of theme have to be wrong (though live bears in the class is probably frowned upon). We ultimately realized that the best teachers are the ones that play off their own personalities and strengths rather than sticking to a defined script. Adaptability is necessary, but if you're trying to be someone your not, you're less likely to accomplish your goal (which is probably a true statement in more ways than just teaching). My charge for the closure of the meeting was for each person to find out who they really are. Knowing this could ultimately yield insight into how you could more effectively teach and interact with students.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Week 3: The Psychology of Student Assessment

This week, David led a workshop addressing the psychology of student assessment and methods to assess higher order thinking.

We began by taking short assessments of different construction, based on different, popular pedagogical theories. Each version of the assessment had an opposing version which contained the same subject matter but assessed in a different manner.

This transitioned to a discussion session. The following topics were discussed in considerable detail:
--How does the presentation of an assessment emphasize any inherent anxiety?
--Is scaffolding inside of an assessment a constructive way to focus student responses?
--How can questions be constructed so as to induce students to extrapolate, rather than interpolate or recall?
--What is the outcome of giving an assessment that contains significant errors?
--How is it possible to fairly and accurately grade questions that are constructed so as to allow a wide spread of possible valid responses?
--What are the best practices for grading tests that were written by a third party, such as when a TA grades a test written by a professor?
--In what ways might "group" tests enhance/devalue summative assessments?

We discussed some excerpts from Higher Order Thinking Skills (King, et al:, and spoke about how the material informs our ability to assess the highest order thinking skills.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fall 2015 Week 2: Teaching Portfolios

This week Christy and Rachel led a group discussion on Teaching Portfolios: their elements, importance, and uses.  
First, we brainstormed as a group elements that might go into a Teaching Portfolio: a diversity statement, SOTP (Statement of Teaching Philosophy), ‘certificates’, teaching evaluations (summaries and quotes), sample syllabi (student-centered syllabus), letters of recommendation, CV, academic transcripts, video of teaching, sample tests or lesson plans, etc.
We spent some time thinking about the Statement of Teaching Philosophy (SOTP).  We talked about what an SOTP is: a 1-2 page document that generally includes your conception of teaching and learning, a description of how you teach, and justification for why you teach that way.  It can demonstrate that you have been reflective and purposeful about your teaching, and communicate your goals as an instructor.  We all agreed that the SOTP can be a challenging document to write, and that while examples abound on the web, it’s usually better to try to write your own first.
To that end, we considered some of the following questions:
  1. As an instructor, what is one skill/behavior you want your students to leave your class with?
  2. Why do you want to teach your subject?
  3. The purpose of education is to________.
  4. Students learn best by______________.
  5. The most effective methods for teaching are___________.
Source: Cornell University Career Services

Some evaluation criteria for SOTPs can be found here:

We then spent some time thinking and talking about the Diversity Statement, which is commonly required in job applications.  This is another essay which can take many forms.  It can address how you deal with a diverse range of students in the classroom, including different cultures, backgrounds, and types of learners. It can discuss how you incorporate diversity into your teaching materials and methods, beyond just saying “I will teach anyone who walks in the door”. It can also address how your personal background has equipped you to deal with diversity among your students.
We spent some time addressing questions that may help structure ideas about what should go into a diversity statement.
  1. How would you define diversity?   How would you define cultural competency?
  2. How you approach the diverse range of students in your classroom?
  3. How do you consider diversity in your teaching materials and methods?
  4. How has your personal background equipped you to accommodate diversity among your students and colleagues?
  5. How do you administratively support diversity among staff and faculty?
  6. How do you address and/or support diversity in your own research?  
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Additional Tips
-Teaching Evals--be sure to stay organized with these, and to update your folder each year.  Save any e-mails or documentation that you may want to refer to later (we quickly forget!) -Evaluations of your teaching by professors in your department (guest lectures, etc.).   -Letters of Recommendation: ask your professors early (like a year before you go on the market) what they need in order to write you a strong letter of rec for your teaching.  -Teaching certificates!, or professionalization in teaching methods (i.e. workshops).   -Teaching Awards, Mentorship programs, etc.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fall 2015: Fostering Student and Teacher Success

Happy Fall Quarter, everyone!

We're excited to announce that we've selected a theme and topics for our weekly fall meetings.  The theme is Fostering Student and Teacher Success, and at our first meeting we decided on topics for each week, as follows:

10/12- The Elements of a Teaching Portfolio

10/19- The Psychology of Successful Assessments to Improve Learning Outcomes

10/26- Maintaining Professionalism while Engaging a Class

11/2- Planning Lessons

11/9- Public Speaking & Gaining Confidence

11/16- Adapting Teaching Styles Across Disciplines

11/23- Teaching Large Lectures

11/30- Wrap-up

Hope to see you at one or all of these!  We meet in Surge III, Room 1360 on Mondays from 11-12.  Feel free to bring lunch!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer Session Meetings


We'll be meeting informally this summer (2015) to discuss topics related to teaching and learning, to network with other graduate students and post-docs who love teaching, to brainstorm, vent, come up with new ideas, etc.

For Summer Session 1, we'll be meeting every other week on Mondays at noon, usually over coffee or lunch.  Details on topics and locations will be sent out over the GTC list-serv--to be added, please email

Looking forward to seeing you this summer!

Rachel Anderson & Christy Cahill, co-facilitators

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spring Week 6: Building Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is the purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. Critical thinking is hard and a complicated process, often referred to as “higher-order skill” and we humans are not naturally good at it.  Unlike running which is natural for us, critical thinking is like ballet, a highly contrived activity. Thus with only many years of dedicated training and practice we would be able to do well as “critical thinkers”.

First several individual skills should be acquired including both the Lower Order Thinking Skills (remember, understand and apply) and the Higher Order Thinking Skills (analyze, evaluate and create). But that’s not all. To be considered “good critical thinker” one should be able to master putting all those individual skills together in perfect balance, something which takes years and years of practice.   

That being said, in order to cultivate our critical thinking skills as teachers and in turn start training our students as critical thinkers for them to become the future successful lawyers, scientists, politicians and educators, we need to understand how critical thinking works. In other words we need to resort to the contributions made by Cognitive Science.

“Thinking” from a Cognitive Science point of view

Recent scientific research suggests that human thinking and decision-making is very complex and integrates two parallel-functioning systems.
In System 1 thinking, one relies heavily on a number of heuristics (cognitive maneuvers), key situational characteristics, readily associated ideas, and vivid memories to arrive quickly and confidently at a judgment. System 1 thinking is particularly helpful in familiar situations when time is short and immediate action is required.  
While System 2 is the more reflective thinking system. It is useful for making judgments when you find yourself in unfamiliar situations and have more time to figure things out. It allows us to process abstract concepts, to deliberate, to plan ahead, to consider options carefully, to review and revise our work in the light of relevant guidelines or standards or rules of procedure.

Both System 1 and System 2 work together to help us make sound decisions and refrain from making foolish or even dangerous errors in judgment. But even a good thinker makes errors due to the influences and misapplications of these cognitive heuristics. Thus by understanding the components of these two systems and how each of them influence us we would be able to overcome or get passed the heuristics and biases resulting from these components which otherwise will impair our ability to think critically.

The five heuristics that more frequently operate in our System 1 reasoning are known as availability, affect, association, simulation, and similarity.

The Availability heuristic, is the coming to mind of a story or vivid memory of something that happened to you or to someone close to you, inclines a person make inaccurate estimates of the likelihood of that thing’s happening again.

The Affect heuristic operates when you have an immediate positive or a negative reaction to some idea, proposal, person, object, whatever. Sometimes called a “gut reaction” this affective response sets up an initial orientation in us, positive or negative, toward the object. It takes a lot of System 2 reasoning to overcome a powerful affective response to an idea, but it can be done.

The Association heuristic is operating when one word or idea reminds us of something else. For example, some people associate the word “cancer” with “death.” Some associate “sunshine” with “happiness.” These kinds of associational reasoning responses can be helpful at times, as for example if associating cancer with death leads you not to smoke and to go in for regular checkups. At other times the same association may influence a person to make an unwise decision, as for example if associating “cancer” with “death” were to lead you to be so fearful and pessimistic that you do not seek diagnosis and treatment of a worrisome cancer symptom until it was really too late to do anything.

The Simulation heuristic is working when you are imagining how various scenarios will unfold. People often imagine how a conversation will go, or how they will be treated by someone else when they meet the person, or what their friends or boss or lover will say and do when they have to address some difficult issue. These simulations, like movies in our heads, help us prepare and do a better job when the difficult moment arrives. But they can also lead us to have mistaken expectations. People may not respond as we imagined, things may go much differently. Our preparations may fail us because the ease of our simulation misled us into thinking that things would have to go as we had imagined them. And they did not.

The Similarity heuristic operates when we notice some way in which we are like someone else and infer that what happened to that person is therefore more likely to happen to us. The similarity heuristic functions much like an analogical argument or metaphorical model. The similarity we focus on might be fundamental and relevant, which would make the inference more warranted. For example, the boss fired your coworker for missing sales targets and you draw the reasonable conclusion that if you miss your sales targets you’ll be fired too. Or the similarity that comes to mind might be superficial or not connected with the outcome, which would make the inference unwarranted. For example you see a TV commercial showing trim-figured young people enjoying fattening fast foods and infer that because you’re young too you can indulge your cravings for fast foods without gaining a lot of excess unsightly poundage.

Heuristics and biases more associated with System 2 thinking include: satisficing, risk/loss aversion, anchoring with adjustment, and the illusion of control.

Satisficing occurs as we consider our alternatives. When we come to one which is good enough to fulfill our objectives we often regard ourselves as having completed our deliberations. We have satisficed. And why not? The choice is, after all, good enough. It may not be perfect, it may not be optimal, it may not even be the best among the options available. But it is good enough. Time to decide and move forward.

We are by nature a species that is averse to risk and loss. Often we make decisions on the basis of what we are too worried about losing, rather than on the basis of what we might gain. The odds may not be stacked against us, but the consequences of losing at times are so great that we would prefer to forego the possibilities of gain in order not to lose what we have.

The heuristic known as Anchoring with Adjustment is operative when we find ourselves making evaluative judgments. The natural thing for us to do is to locate or anchor our evaluation at some point along whatever scale we are using. The unfortunate thing about this heuristic is that we sometimes drop anchor in the wrong place; we have a hard time giving people a second chance at making a good first impression.

The heuristic known as Illusion of Control is evident in many situations. Many of us over-estimate our abilities to control what will happen. We make plans for how we are going to do this or that, say this or that, manipulate the situation this way or that way, share or not share this information or that possibility, all the time thinking that some how our petty plans will enable us to control what happens.

Related to the Illusion of Control heuristic is the tendency to misconstrue our personal influence or responsibility for past events. This is called Hindsight Bias. We may over-estimate the influence our actions have had on events when things go right, or we may underestimate our responsibility or culpability when things go wrong. We have all heard people bragging about how they did this and how they did that and, as a result, such and such wonderful things happened.

Practical approaches for teaching critical thinking

Now we understand the components underlying Critical Thinking, and understand how each component if left uncontrolled might refrain us from making sound decisions. With these lessons from Cognitive Science in mind we discussed about practical approaches that can be adopted in the classroom to teach critical thinking. Some of these approaches include:

-Utilizing higher-order questioning approach to fire up students' Critical Thinking skills (Table 1).

-Leading students to the correct answer and making them come up with the answer themselves rather than the teacher giving away the answer right away.

- Guided reading: While asking students to critically evaluate a reading material, give them a set of questions for them to think about while they are reading.

-Asking students to evaluate the conclusions derived from data.

-Emphasizing the importance of Critical Thinking with real life examples. Make them aware of examples in history where lack of Critical Thinking skills has resulted in the collapse of an empire, caused the death of thousands of people etc.

-Emphasizing group work: In properly structured cooperative learning environments, students perform more of the active, critical thinking with continuous support and feedback from other students and the teacher.

-Adopting a problem based learning approach, which studies show to increase the critical thinking skills in students.

-Providing examples of good critically evaluated statements and asking students why they think it is good.

 1) Peter A. Facione (2013) Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts.
 2) Tim van Gelder (2005) Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Lessons from Cognitive Science

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spring Week 5: Universal Design for Learning

The concept of Universal Design Instruction (UDI) is actually a modified version of a value system implemented by architects and designers to consider human diversity in the design of products and spaces. It was developed as a way to address the changing student body in postsecondary education. This includes an increasing proportion of students who are older (over the age of 25), who are ethnic/racial minorities, and who are only in school part time and have other obligations like work and family. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and similar legislature, have heightened awareness about access to college where equal opportunities and classroom accommodations are assured. This model, UDI, shifts the focus from retrofitting accommodations to instruction to proactively planning for instruction that anticipates diversity in learners. It is a value system that embraces heterogeneity in learners and espouses high academic standards. The overall goal of UDI is to promote full participation and universal access for persons with disabilities in higher education.

The UDI paradigm as defined by nine principles: 1) equitable use, 2) flexibility in use, 3) simple and intuitive, 4) perceptible information, 5) tolerance for error, 6) low physical effort, 7) size and space, 8) community learning and 9) instructional climate. The first principle means that instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people with diverse abilities. The instructor should provide the same means of use for all students; identical whenever possible, equivalent when not. The second principle means that instruction is designed to accommodate a wide range of individual abilities. The instructor should provide a choice of method in use. The third principle means that instruction is designed in a straightforward and predictable manner, regardless of students’ experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. The instructor should eliminate any unnecessary complexity in the curriculum.  The fourth principle means that instruction is designed so that necessary information is communicated effectively to the student, regardless of ambient conditions or the students’ sensory abilities. The fifth principle means that instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skills. The sixth principle means that instruction is designed to minimize nonessential physical effort in order to allow maximum attention to learning (but does not apply when physical effort is integral to requirements of a course). The seventh principle means that instruction is designed with consideration for appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulations, and use regardless of a student’s body size, posture, mobility, and communication needs. The eighth principle means that the instructional environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between student and faculty. The ninth principle means that instruction is designed to be welcoming and inclusive and high expectations are espoused for all students. The last two principles are an addition to the original UD principle for early education as an extension for postsecondary education. Here are some examples of the principles applied.

Other barriers to effective teaching in postsecondary education include the effect of the reward system for faculty that stresses research and scholarship that minimizes the importance of teaching and ways to improve it. In addition, there is no mandate for students with disabilities for a free, appropriate postsecondary education. Colleges are not required to alter technical standards and students must maintain their eligibility by meeting criteria for academic performance. While, this paradigm still requires validation to prove its efficacy, this paper shows that both students with learning disabilities as well as faculty who are recognized to be outstanding teachers recognize the most important factors that determine academic success and they all fall within one or more of the UDI principles (McGuire 2006). 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spring Week 4: Assessments

Effective assessment methods are a crucial part of the learning process and can provide valuable feedback to both the student and instructor.  Assessment of student learning provides feedback to the instructor on if learning objectives are being met, and allows them to assess their teaching methods and adapt their strategies to better achieve learning objectives.  For students, assessments contribute to a system that allows for students to be ranked against each other (grades), and can be motivating factor to learn.

We discussed benefits and limitations of two types of assessments:
       The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning.
       The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Formative Assessment:
- Allows for modification of teaching if students aren’t meeting learning objectives
- The focus is on the learning
- “low stakes” for the students
- Immediate feedback to the students and instructors
- Fosters a connection between students and instructors
- Easier for some students to perform on these types of assessments
Con’s:- Grading can be more challenging and time consuming
- Could affect course content covered, maybe substitute depth for breadth.
- Less motivating for some students

Summative Assessment:
- Allows for comparison to a standard
- Applicable to real world situations where you have to perform
- Can develop skills for high stress situations (“high stakes”)
- Can provide a platform for students to make connections
- Unambiguous grading
- Anxiety
- Focus is on performance instead of knowledge
- Not time to modify teaching if students don’t get concepts
- Concern about if it’s a valid measure of learning objective

The limited research on the effectiveness of formative assessment is reviewed in this article. 

We discussed this research article that evaluates the effectiveness of modified essay questions in assessing students problem-solving skills.  The authors argue that higher ordered cognitive skills were better assessed with multiple choice questions rather than modified essay questions. We discussed how the findings could be a result of question writers limited experience writing this type of question. We also discusses the value of examining our own test questions, and categorizing them according to the thinking skills that are tested using  Blooms taxonomy.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spring Week 3: The Role of Confusion in Learning

Confusion can be beneficial for learning?

The majority of students applaud professors for being able to explain complex concepts with step-by-step clarity, believing that their understanding is bolstered by their ability to follow a logical progression.  As such, institutes such as the Khan Academy strive to create clear, concise, and easy-to-understand videos to teach everything from science to history.  However, emerging research has been challenging this paradigm.  To probe the effectiveness of confusion, D'Mello et al. looked at the role of confusion and its effectiveness in improving learning.

The authors begin by acknowledging that confusion may be detrimental in certain types of simple learning (e.g. memorization), but they assert that confusion is unavoidable in complex learning (e.g. problem solving).  Thus, the authors probe the mechanistic role of confusion in comprehension over two sets of experiments involving Autotutor, a video displaying a "tutor agent" and a "peer agent" who sometimes agree and sometimes disagree about a specific topic.

To minimize confusion, a control was performed where the tutor agent and peer agent presented everything clearly and logically.  Confusion was induced when either or both agents presented incorrect information.  Learning was queried throughout the process.  As the participants observed the dialogue, they were given opportunities to provide real-time "forced responses" to indicate their ongoing thoughts.  Moreover, their facial expressions were recorded and after the experiment, the student was given an opportunity to describe their dominant emotion at specific timepoints during the experiment.

Their preliminary findings showed that although students answered more forced-response questions correctly in the non-confusing control, students who were more confused performed better on a post-test.  This prompted a second study to analyze the extent of the students' learning by adding a final "near and far transfer" test as a function of confusion.  Again, they found that students who were confused would perform better.

Of course, one could argue that students who were confused performed poorly initially and thus have more room for improvement, and the increase in scores is simply an artifact of the study.  But regardless of the validity of the study, it is certain that confusion occurs, and the authors propose a "confusion pathway," detailing how confusion could be beneficial with proper guidance and perseverance, and how it could be detrimental if students lose interest.

Probing beyond the scope of the paper, the role of confusion could be linked to notions of self-worth.  The US education system teaches students to link their ideas, grades, and academic performance to their identity; students are evaluated on academic performance.  Therefore, we are inadvertently trained to view confusion as a personal failure.  However, by empowering students to fail without impacting their self-worth, students may improve their learning of complex tasks.  The role of the ego is further explored in a related Veritasium video.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spring Week 2: The Flipped Classroom Approach

The Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom is an innovative technology intensive teaching method which is currently being explored at UC Davis through the iAMSTEM HUB organization. The basis of the flipped classroom is to reorganize the order in which the professor interacts with the students. Typically, the professor will present a topic during lecture. The students will then complete homework or be tested on this topic. The process of knowledge acquisition can be simplified through the five Es.
1. Engage: Interest the students in the topic
2. Explore: Provide a broad picture understanding of the topic
3. Explain: Provide a detailed picture understanding of the topic
4. Elaborate: Present the students with higher order thinking questions
5. Evaluate: Test the students on their understanding

In a typical setting Es 1-3, or the content attainment phase, occur in the classroom and Es 4-5, or the content application phase, occur at home. Within the flipped classroom model, these two phases are switched and require the professor to present the content attainment phase via technology. Both models are represented in the image below created by Jensen et al. This switching process significantly aids in the application of active learning, which has been proven to “increase exam scores by 6% and decrease fail rates by more than 50%” (Jensen et al.).

The paper by Jensen et al. attempts to delineate the effectualness of the flipped classroom model within an active learning style background. Based on normalized data collected by two non-major introductory biology courses, one flipped and one not, during the same semester, taught by the same professor in an active learning style; Jensen et al. saw that there was not a drastic difference in learning outcomes, whether through exam scores, or student opinions.

Reflections by the GTC, however, do not believe this article provided enough information to refute the efficaciousness of the flipped classroom model absolutely and believe that
 • The flipped classroom model may enhance self sufficient thinking that may be carried onto subsequent courses
 • The flipped classroom model is an exceptional vehicle to introduce active learning, a proven beneficial teaching technique
 • Flipped classrooms may enhance emotional connections to the topic and increase long term retainment of the subject matter

How about you?
Would you be interested in implementing a flipped classroom? free polls
If you’re interested in flipping a classroom, here is an article that can get you headed in the right direction.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Spring Week 1: Active Learning

This quarter, the Graduate Teaching Community decided to shift weekly discussions to a journal-club format, in which we read and discuss a peer-reviewed paper relating to college teaching each week. Our topic this week was active learning and the discussion was based on a review, “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research” (1). While the review is now a decade old, it is worth reading, as it presumes limited familiarity with education research on the part of the audience, making it more accessible to non-specialists. Our discussion of the paper had two main phases – we talked about overall challenges in interpreting educational studies and then went over active learning, collaborative learning, and problem based learning.

Challenges in interpreting the educational literature
The biggest pitfall facing non-specialists reading the education literature is probably the temptation to over-generalize results. To avoid this, it is important to carefully assess both the teaching methodology used and the measured outputs. The importance of this is evident when looking at the active learning literature – a wide range of techniques fall under the banner of active learning and researchers have assessed their impact on everything from test scores to student attrition to attitudes towards school.

Active learning
Active learning can be broadly defined as any student-centric activity that is incorporated into a traditional lecture that has the effect of breaking up the passive transmission of information from teacher to student. Examples include giving students a minute to review notes with a neighbor, “think-pair-share,” i-clickers, and group problem-solving. These approaches are thought to beneficial because they serve to reset student attention spans and, if done well, help students engage more deeply with the material. While many studies have shown benefits from active learning, the wide variety of approaches that fall under this umbrella mean that you should look for technique-specific studies before making a decision about implementing a particular flavor of active learning.

Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
Collaborative learning methods are approaches where students work in groups, either in class, or outside of class. Cooperative learning is a specific type of collaborative learning, where students are graded based on both group and individual performance. An example of cooperative learning could be a group presentation where students work together to prepare the talk and are then graded, a least in part, on their individual performances. Both approaches have been shown to improve grades, reduce attrition, and improve student attitudes. An important consideration with group work is that many students have never been taught how to work effectively in groups, so be sure to provide guidance on how you want the groups to function.

Problem-based learning (PBL)
Problem-based learning encompasses a wide-variety of approaches where learning activities, lessons, or entire courses are designed around solving a real-world problem. Examples of PBL could include an ecology lecture that introduces concepts through the prism of a conservation problem at a particular park, an accounting assignment that teaches tax concepts via working through a tax return, or a molecular biology lab course where students spend the semester cloning and characterizing a particular gene. Due to the wide array of PBL methods, the data on their efficacy is somewhat mixed, however the most consistent finding is that student attitudes towards the course are better when PBL is used.

Based on our discussion, it is clear that active learning approaches are something that all college teachers should consider incorporating into their classes. Indeed, efforts to expand use of active learning in large lecture courses are underway at UC Davis (2). If you want to read more about the research on active learning that has been done since this review was published, I recommend taking a look at recent meta-analysis of over 200 active learning studies (3).

1) Prince, Michael. “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Engineering Education, 2004.
2)  Perez-Pena, Richard. “Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science.” New York Times, 2014.
3)  Freeman et al. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Math.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2014.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Resources about Teaching and Learning


In the spirit of researching teaching and learning, we wanted to provide as many resources as possible for spring quarter (and beyond!)

Feel free to add more in the comments!
Resources (in no particular order):
Tomorrow's Professor Blog:  .  (Under 
Postings choose 'Tomorrow's teaching and learning' for archived posts about this topic.)
Journal on Excellence in College Teaching: 
Journal of Research in Science Teaching: 
Journal of College Science Teaching 
American Association of Colleges and Universities “Liberal Education” 
American Association of Colleges and Universities “Peer Review” 
American Association of Colleges and Universities “Diversity and Democracy” 
The Chronicle of Higher Education 
The ERIC database (through Shields Library).  (enter ERIC into search engine)
**For discipline specific journals related to teaching, see this well-indexed list maintained by Kennesaw State University: