The Freeman et al. paper focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s not because active learning isn’t effective in health science, education, social science, humanities,…but rather, because there is $$$ to study education in STEM education (because historically, STEM education has been so terrible!)
The authors say, let’s stop proving active learning works – it does! – and let’s turn our attention to >why< it works. That’s ignited countless “second generation” research projects and articles digging into effective active learning.
One of my favourite “second generation” papers is “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?” by Eddy & Hogan (2017). They show that classes with “highly structured” active learning increase the success of all students, with exaggerated impact on historically-disadvantaged groups. Their example of high structure is classes using the flipped learning model (students are guided on how to prepare for each class) and then peer instruction (polling using audience response tools) and/or worksheets in class.
And here’s where it all come together: providing structure and scaffolding and revealing the hidden curriculum about how to learn is at the heart of inclusive teaching. For a great overview of using structure to support inclusion, check out “How to make your teaching more inclusive” by Sathy & Hogan. (This is an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education and might require a subscription.) There was such overwhelming positive response to the Chronicle article, Sathy & Hogan turned it into an entire book, “Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom”.
The part of this story I like the most is this: after effective course design, I believe inclusive teaching practices are the most important component of a course. The research shows inclusive teaching isn’t warm and fuzzy / tokenistic / performative acts injected into your teaching. Instead, it’s careful, thoughtful, intentional design of the lesson and the course. And that’s something concrete we can all work on and practice.
I’m reading “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. This blog post is a thread I posted on Twitter. Clicking on any of the tweets will open the thread in Twitter where you can more easily follow links, react, and respond.
1/ I’m a third of the way through “How to be an antiracist” @DrIbram. I see connections to #HigherEd on every page.
Something on page 101 broke my brain. By page 103, I think I fixed it.
I’m going to try to explain. I may get this wrong. I keep learning, though.
3/ Eddy and @DrMrsKellyHogan look at the impact of increased structure in active learning (like using worksheets and clickers) by comparing exam performance after traditional lecture vs structured activities by White / Black and by First / Continuing Gen students.
5/ Here’s why I like this paper so much: It demonstrates the facilitating effective, active learning is #InclusiveTeaching. You needn’t artificially “diversify” your course materials or add some tokens to try to be inclusive. Just do good active learning!
One of the key features of the Foundations series is that the distance from the examples we examine in the sessions and what the participants can actually use in their courses is as short as possible. That is, there is only “near transfer” from an anatomy example to an anatomy course, rather than “far transfer” from a physics example to a nursing course. In collaboration with the local champion in the discipline, we worked to provide meaningful examples wherever possible.
Let’s look in depth at the sessions in the series with many discipline-specific examples.
Session 1: How People Learn
This foundational session sets the stage for all the others in the series. Participants read Chapter 1 of How People Learn. The session revolves around a card-sorting activity where participants work in groups of 2 or 3 to match three key findings with three implications for teaching and three descriptions of classroom environments.
No matter how much you carefully backwards-design your course and lessons, students are unlikely to learn if they don’t feel welcome and safe. Session 2 revolves around a “jigsaw activity”. That’s when participants first go into “focus groups” to learn about a specific element in a collection, and then into “task groups” to share their new-found expertise with others from other groups:
In my jigsaw, the participants consider 6 different students in a typical class. I work with my colleague to tailor the collection to students they’ll encounter in their Department, School, or Faculty.
In their task groups, they answer these three questions:
What advice would give your new colleague to
assure the student they’re welcome to contribute to the class
build on the student’s diverse knowledge, strengths, and experiences
What not to do.
They break into focus groups, then task groups. Then we all come back together and I get them to record their best advice about each student on a big chart. We all step back and look at the big picture.
I’ve run this session many times and the same magic happens every time: the same advice shows up for each student like, don’t call them out to represent others and provide structure so everyone knows what to expect and what’s expected of them. Once again, effective teaching is inclusive teaching!
Session 3: Learning Outcomes
Sessions 3, 4, and 5 lead the participants through a backward design approach to their courses. Course instructors aren’t always enthusiastic about learning outcomes, so it’s important that if they do see them – oh, and they will! – the learning outcomes need to be relevant.
I remind everyone about topic- and course-level learning outcomes:
Then we see examples of learning outcomes, tailored to the discipline of the participants:
This is an example of an element of Foundations that requires very little extra work from me – I have “holes” in my master slides that my colleague fills in for me.
Session 4: Assessment for Learning
I make a point of highlight this is assessment FOR learning, not assessment OF learning, to spark the discussion of formative, not only summative, assessment.
While there’s potential for showing assessments connected to the discipline-specific learning outcomes, I take a more foundational approach. First I share this excellent advice from Ken Bail (2004): Students need safe yet challenging opportunities to try, fail, get feedback, and try again, all before facing a summative assessment. This makes our discussions of formative feedback more meaningful.
In the next part of the session, we explore fixed and growth mindset and honestly, it’s very easy for this discussion to last for the rest of our time. It’s not uncommon for workshop participants to suggest their students should have this discussion, too.
I usually wrap up the session with a quick discussion of rubrics. The next time I facilitate this workshop, I’ll be sure to include links and references to Robert Talbert’s excellent blog post, Steps toward excellence: Making sure you assess the right things. He outlines how rubrics provide you, and your students, with a “line-of-sight path” from learning outcomes to assessment tasks to students’ grades to formative feedback.
Second, this is me “walking the walk” when it comes to advocating for evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning. This also helps the participants (especially in STEM fields) get familiar with the evidence they can cite in their annual reviews, teaching statements, and job applications.
Finally, and equally importantly, we interpret the Freeman results with active learning in small, collaborative groups. In-person, I hand a copy of this slide to each group of 3 or 4 (and more recently, I’ve done this in online workshops using breakout rooms and a shared set of Google slides.)
What’s important is that the participants experience active, collaborative, small group work and witness some of the choreography needed to support it.
For the rest of the session we explore active learning strategies that help students practice the learning outcomes, especially strategies that are more frequently used in their disciplines like peer instruction with clickers, case studies, demonstrations with predictions, and group discussions.
Session 6: Chosen by the participants
The co-facilitator and I remind participants through the series that in the sixth and final session, we’ll dig deeper into something covered earlier or explore another topic that’s valuable to them. Sometimes we look at course syllabi. Often, though, we talk in detail about peer instruction. That’s the powerful and evidence-based active learning strategy where
the instructor poses a conceptually-challenging question
each student thinks about the question submit their answer using a physical or virtual “clicker”
students discuss the question and their answers in small groups
students may vote a second time, depending on the nature of the question
the instructor leads a class-wide discussion where students share their thinking
the instructor models expert-like thinking and confirms why the right answers are right and the wrong answers are wrong
In this session, participants have an opportunity to draft and share some peer instruction questions, after seeing examples in their discipline. It’s vitally important they see familiar concepts so that they recognize conceptually-challenging concepts, identify common misconceptions, and can make the near transfer to their own course in the same discipline.
To be honest, customizing my generic workshop resources to each discipline is quite simple. It’s a great opportunity to work closely with the co-facilitator before each session. And, in my experience, the session participants are visibly relieved to see examples from their discipline. The examples spark conversations between colleagues about what they teach and how they teach it, strengthening the teaching-focused cohort in that Department, School, or Faculty.
I’ve hinted here what some sessions look like, with flipped learning and active learning. The next post will have more details about the format of the sessions. Spoiler: it’s all about modelling.