Tag Archive | flipping the classroom

Thoughts on Teaching – 3/26/2012 – Second big activity

I had my second big test toward flipping my classroom today.  For those of you who have not been following, I am in the process of experimenting with reducing the lecture component of the classroom and turning my class into a hybrid class where the primary activity in class will be student-centered activities.  I’ve been taking the first steps toward that by designing two new activities this semester that plug into the regular face-to-face class.

Today’s activity built off of a set of videos on FDR that I had the students watch before class.  This one was set up similarly to the Triangle Fire activity that I discussed in an earlier post.  In this case, the students had to watch eight 2-3 minute videos highlighting different aspects of FDR’s life and politics.  The other option was to have them watch the entire documentary available on him, but that was 4 hours long, and I decided not to push my luck there.  They also had a few supplementary readings on FDR to enhance what I had talked about in class and what was available in the textbook.

I also filled in the students on why I was doing all of this, meaning I basically told them what I just wrote here.  As well, I talked about why I chose to concentrate in on FDR for a full day.  I talked about how influential he was, how he was elected an unprecedented 4 terms, and how he makes up a significant portion of the total time covered in the second half of an American history course.  I have been trying to do this more, talk about why we are studying specific things and what my goals are.  I have no idea if the students appreciate it or not, but it is important to me.

What I did not do, and I am disappointed in myself for this, was do much more than have them look at the material and then have a discussion about it.  Yes, that’s fine, but that’s about where it stops.  The discussion went well in the two classes that I had today, with the first one going very well and the second one being pretty good.  I have one more tomorrow.  I was just hoping to do more than just a discussion.  I just feel that a discussion is just the default alternative to the lecture format.  I know that it does invite more participation from the students, but it is still something largely led by me.  It also lets a large number of students off the hook, as I do refuse to do the whole calling-on-people thing.

As I said, though, it feels lazy to just do a discussion.  I wanted to do more, but I couldn’t really find the right themes in the videos to hold a debate or group work.  I guess it’s also still something that is out of my comfort zone.  I will have to get over that and get more adventurous in the future.  I have also been distracted by our house hunt, which took up much of the weekend, so I did not get to prep as much as I would have liked to.  Hopefully with a full semester of projects like this, I will be able to devote more time and be forced to be more creative, as a whole semester worth of discussions would just get boring after a while.

Anyway, I think it did go well, but I would have liked to do more.  That’s the short version (the tl;dr version).

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Thoughts on Education – 3/20/2012 – A long article

I promised that I would return to this article, and so I will here.  I had read it earlier and just revisited it now.  I was quite impressed with the thought that went into the article, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said.  I especially liked these ideas here:

  • “Instructors walk to the front of rooms, large and small, assuming that their charges have come to class “prepared,” i.e. having done the reading that’s been assigned to them — occasionally online, but usually in hard copy of some kind. Some may actually have done that reading. And some may actually do it, after a fashion, before the next paper or exam (even though, as often as not, they will attempt to get by without having done so fully or at all). But the majority? On any given day?”
  • “We want them to see the relevance of history in their own lives, even as we want them to understand and respect the pastness of the past. We want them to evaluate sources in terms of the information they reveal, the credibility they have or lack, or the questions they prompt. We want them to become independent-minded people capable of striking out on their own. In essence, we want for them what all teachers want: citizens who know how to read, write, and think.”
  • “We think it’s our job to ask students to think like historians (historians, who, for the moment, were all born and trained in the twentieth century). We don’t really consider it our job to think like students as a means of showing them why someone would want to think like a historian. We take that for granted because it’s the choicewe made. Big mistake.”
  • “For one thing, there’s too much “material” to “cover” (as if history must — can — be taught sequentially, or as if what’s covered in a lecture or a night’s reading is likely to be remembered beyond those eight magic words a student always longs to to be told: “what we need to know for the test”). For another, few teachers are trained and/or given time to develop curriculum beyond a specific departmental, school, or government mandate. The idea that educators would break with a core model of information delivery that dates back beyond the time of Horace Mann, and that the stuff of history would consist of improvisation, group work, and telling stories with sounds or pictures: we’ve entered a realm of fantasy (or, as far as some traditionalists may be concerned, a nightmare). College teachers in particular may well think of such an approach as beneath them: they’re scholars, not performers.”
  • “Already, so much of history education, from middle school through college, is a matter of going through the motions.”
  • “Can you be a student of history without reading? Yes, because it happens every day. Can you be a serious student of history, can you do history at the varsity level, without it? Probably not. But you can’t get from one to the other without recognizing, and acting, on the reality of student life as it is currently lived. That means imagining a world without books — broadly construed — as a means toward preventing their disappearance.”

OK, so if you’ve stuck with me this far, you are looking for more than just a bland repeating of what someone else said.  So, here are my own thoughts on the matter.  I think this is spot on with regard to the assumptions that we make in teaching history.  I have long since given up on the idea that my students actually do the reading that I assign, although I do my damnedest to get them to.  I put together more and more complex quizzes that the students have to complete on each chapter, with the hope that they will not be able to complete them without reading the chapters.  Actually, I won’t even say I do that, as more of the approach I make is that it will be much easier and faster for the students to complete the assignments they are required to do if they have actually done the reading.  What is funny, and really a failing on my part, is that I still run the class as if they are doing the reading, even though I know they don’t.  This is exactly the fault at which this article is aimed.

I also fall victim to the idea of coverage.  I feel that, as long as I am lecturing, then I am expected to fully cover the material for the course, telling the students everything that they are supposed to know.  I adopt that “sage on the stage” persona so easily that it is scary.  All it takes is for me to stand up in front of the class, and I can talk for 75-minutes on the subject, never asking questions, never stopping for clarifications, and just going, going, going.  I do that day after day without really trying.  Despite my best intentions, I have the standard lecture class down pat, so much so that it takes very little preparation on my part these days to be able to walk in and deliver that lecture.  I wish this wasn’t so, but I feel that I’ve actually gotten lazy with my teaching, just delivering the same old series of lectures, which are now on their 4th year since the last set of revisions.  I’m no better than that joke that we all laugh about of the old professor going in with his old hand-written notes on a legal pad that he did 20 years earlier and delivering the same lecture.  I have fallen into that trap.  Instead of innovating in the place where it matters most, I am stagnating.  I have innovated everywhere else, but day in and day out, I do the same old thing.

So, what can I do?  Well, I have already been planning it out in this blog, and the more I read things like this article, the more I am convinced that it is time for a radical change.  I don’t mean incremental change with some modifications to the lecture and so forth.  I mean radical change.  Blowing up the lecture class.  Flipping the classroom.  Whatever you want to call it.  I need to approach the students and deliver to them, not do what I and my colleagues have always done.  And when I step down from my teaching high each day, I look around at the students, and what do I see?  They are gazing off into the distance, texting on their phones, watching me, surfing the internet, taking notes, dozing, and all sorts of things.  Yet, all of those things are passive.  Sitting there.  Letting themselves either be entertained or annoyed at having to be there (as if I’m forcing them to get a college education).  I want an active classroom.  I want the students to be engaged.  I want to teach history, historical thinking, critical thinking, and so much more.  I don’t want to just lecture, deliver.  To do that, I’m going to have to step out of my comfort zone.  I’m going to have to stop going in with my pre-made lecture and talk for 75 minutes.  I will have to do it all differently.  I will have to change.  It will be hard.  It will be a lot of work.  It will be uncertain.  But I hope it will also be valuable to my students and to me.

Thoughts on Teaching – 2/20/2012 – A slow day

Today was an uninspiring teaching day.  I have reworked lectures at various times over the years, and much of that has been to shorten earlier in the semester lectures so that I can make it further into the time period that I’m covering.  Today was one of those lectures where I made cuts that disconnected the material from its real point.  So, I struggled through the first delivery to connect everything together and show the students why this was not just a collection of random material but instead was connected and relevant.  It worked better by the second class, but both classes were also depressing for another reason.  The big problem is that I felt the students were more disconnected than usual today.  The drops are starting, so some students are getting out of the class now, but I really have a large number of people simply not showing up.  And, of those who do show up, it’s hard to peg very many of them as actually paying all that much attention.  Again, it certainly wasn’t my best material at all, but it just reinforces for me the problem with a lecture.  When my lecture is going really well, I might have 50-60% student engagement.  Today, it felt like 20-30%, which is just depressing overall.  In my second class, which is a two-way video class, the high school I was connecting to was not in session, and a lot of people were missing in front of me, so I ended up lecturing to nine people.  Twenty-six out of forty in the first class was already low for this time of year, but nine is really depressing.  And then to see them mostly disconnected is even worse, as there’s no hiding the fact that you’re not connecting on the material with that few students in the room.

I have been saying for a while that my lectures need to be revised soon, and this lecture was one that needs to be worked with desperately.  It might work better as one that is not delivered but that is, instead, seen by the students not as an individual lecture but as a narrative supplement that I have available to enhance the hybrid class going on in the classroom.  I guess that’s going to be the question when I do redo the class, whether it’s a full flip or not, which is do I present the lectures at that point in episodic form, like they are now, where there are distinct lectures, or do I format my own material like a book, putting it together in a narrative that the students can engage with like they would the textbook.  They can read it in pieces or all at once.  I’m thinking of an integrated lecture, with my PowerPoint images combined with the text from the lectures that can be read more like a book.  I don’t know, just brainstorming here.  I started that a while ago and made it through the first two lectures, coding them in Dreamweaver to bring together a web lecture.  Nothing fancy except for integration of the images with text.  Still, it would give the students something to read more interesting than just a Word document with an accompanying Power Point.  And, this would give a good opportunity to rework the lectures, especially if I am to move beyond the delivery of the lectures and think about them more as a way to deliver my ideas to the student.  I can imagine that the lectures would be different if they were aimed at being read rather than delivered.  I don’t know.  This will be something to think about as I move forward.

I guess all of us who teach have these days, but it was definitely less than inspiring.  Beyond that, it was mostly small stuff at work, writing a recommendation letter and weighing in on the choosing of a new textbook for the class.  I wish I could say there was more, but that’s about it.  I have grading to do, but I did not get any done today, because that filled up my day, and by the time I got home, it was time to pick up the kids.  Then, it was chores, homework time with the kids, and dinner.  Now, all of the sudden, it’s 10pm.  So, I shall sign off for the evening and hope for a more inspiring day tomorrow.

Thoughts on Education – 2/11/2012 – A revolution in the classroom?

Here’s a breakdown of the articles on education I’ve come across recently.

We’re ripe for a great disruption in higher education

The core of her argument is here:  “But the real disruption comes when you stop measuring academic accomplishment in terms of seat time and hours logged, and start measuring it by competency. As all employers know, the average BA doesn’t certify that the degree-holder actually knows anything. It merely certifies that she had the perseverance to pass the required number of courses.”  She is projecting a time when everything is going to be overturned.  Where it’s not just the point where online courses take the place of face-to-face courses, but where the whole model of how we teach gets overturned.  Who knows if she is right that this is going to happen anytime soon or in our lifetime, as revolutions are predicted all the time, but the argument is certainly compelling.  Alternatives to the 4-year, sit-down degree have been growing, and at some point, it is easy to see us reaching a point at some time where we have fewer and fewer “traditional” students.  Even now, I know that we could fill as many online classes as we could offer at my community college.  My history ones always fill in a day or two after they open, and we could keep going.  Of course, then there becomes the question of who is going to take the traditional classes if we just have more and more online classes?  Right now, we limit the alternatives, forcing most students to take a traditional, face-to-face class.  And, right now, there is a distinct population that wants that.  However, at some point we are going to stop being able to keep that gate closed, and students will start going to places that offer more flexibility.  The other thing that occurs to me on reading the article is that even our most “non-traditional” offering at my community college, the online course, is still strapped into the traditional course calendar.  It starts and ends at the same time, and the guidelines we are given have the students not able to work ahead but instead completing the course like a traditional course.  Breaking those boundaries will become necessary I think.  We should be moving to classes that are self-paced, classes that work outside of a semester schedule, classes that can be completed in 4-, 8-, 12-, 16-, 20-, 24-weeks or whatever.  Classes that start at odd times and classes that end at odd times.  I can see the day, at some point, where we have rolling enrollment and completion on a student’s schedule.  The student registers and starts, finishing up when he or she finishes, with assignments graded as they come in.  We create the content, monitor the course, are available for consultation, feedback, and assessment.  In other words, the day where a lot more places look like Western Governors University.  And, the scary thing is, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Using Google Docs to Check In On Students’ Reading

And, if we are going to move to this more self-paced model, then we need to have better tools to check in on our students as they are doing their work.  So, this article’s title certainly seems to go along with that.  This is a quite interesting use of Google Docs.  He details how to create a spreadsheet to keep track of where students are and what they are doing.  As it is shared among all students, everyone can then see whatever common dimension you are looking for.  In his case, he was having common reading and having the students post up before each class on how far they had read.  That way he knew roughly where all students were, including a class average that gave a decent idea of how far most students were.  I could see this used in a lot of different cases for common assignments in a traditional class or with a self-paced class, you have to post up to that in order to keep track of each individual student’s progress as they make their way through a self-paced course.  I could see something like this really working well at tracking students on those types of assignments that they do outside of class that don’t have specific end points/assessments (like textbook reading and the like).  That gives you another way to check progress rather than just waiting on them to complete a chapter test.  The only thing this relies on is the students accurately and honestly recording their progress.  I do think this would matter less if you were thinking about a self-paced course than one where it would be embarrassing for a student to show up to class not having read the required reading.  With a self-paced course, this tool could also serve to remind the students at regular points that they should be working on some piece of the course.

Harvard Looks Beyond Lectures to Keep Students Engaged

This article was a bit shorter and lighter on substance than I thought when I posted it up to Evernote to read later.  Still, it does cover some of these same ideas that something needs to change, as I think many of us can agree.  In this case, Harvard is dealing with the problem that “researchers already know what works to promote deeper thinking and learning and it’s not sitting in lectures, taking tests, and then moving on to the next topic. Instead, students need the opportunity to make meaning of what they’ve learned and apply it to real-world challenges.”  I can certainly agree with that.  What I don’t buy is the last section, which implicitly tells us to wait for Harvard to make its decision on how we should change things, and then we can all rely on their expertise and change afterwards.  I’m not waiting for them, and I don’t think the field is either.

Resistance to the inverted classroom can show up anywhere

I’ll close today with this one, which goes back to a concern I raised in the first article.  “Many students simply want to be lectured to. When I taught the MATLAB course inverted, all of the students were initially uncomfortable with the course design, some vocally so.”  Challenging the way things have always been done is going to lead to resistance.  The student in a lecture class is in a passive role.  Little is asked of that student, and they can just go through and do the minimum and do fine.  Show up, take a few notes, and we will consider you to be learning.  I hear that all the time from my colleagues (not going to name any names here), that the students they have won’t even take notes in class.  I wonder two things about this.

First, is taking notes the thing we are seeing as the highest level of learning?  I hear that more than anything else, that if you aren’t lecturing and the students aren’t taking notes, then learning isn’t happening.  I go the route where I give all of my students my lecture notes ahead of time, which they are welcome to bring to class or use a laptop/tablet to access in class.  I have had a number of students comment positively about that, saying that it allows them to actually pay attention to what is said in class rather than furiously trying to take notes on it.  I’m not sure when it happened, but we seem to have elevated taking notes on a heard lecture to the highest form of academic achievement.  Yet, I have plenty of students who don’t take any notes who do well and students who take a lot of notes who struggle.

Second, listening to a lecture and taking notes on it is the most passive of activities for a student.  It might seem active to watch the pencils flying out there in class, but, at its heart, this exchange requires very little of the student beyond paying attention.  There are not a lot of jobs out there where the ability to listen to 75-minute lectures and take notes about them is going to be a regular part of what they are asked to do.  Yet, that seems to me to be the primary skill that we ask of the students.  And while it is, why would a student want to change it.  All they have to be is a listener and a note-taker.

Of course changing out of the model is going to breed resistance.  If you told me that instead of sitting and listening to a lecture, I had to actively participate, presenting my opinions, engaging the material, and thinking and doing, I would have resisted as well.  I can’t say it a lot better than this author did:  “What I think this illustrates is that there is a cultural expectation about how college classes ought to go that is very hard to change. Many students — and faculty! — in higher education are sold on what I called the renters’ model, which is basically transactional. I pay my money and inhabit this space while you take care of my needs, and when I’m done I’ll move on. The inverted classroom is one style of teaching that insists on ownership. There will be some friction when two fundamental conceptions of class time are in such disagreement with each other, no matter how much sense it might make in your content area.”  It is something I worry about on a regular basis about making change to my class.  The question is, do we let expectations hold us back or do we move forward anyway and try to change those expectations?

Thoughts on Teaching History – 2/9/2012

We had a presentation today from one of the major publishers, and in the process, we had an impromptu conversation about teaching history as well.  It got me thinking about my own assumptions about teaching history, so I thought I needed to sit down and work out some things here.

What got me going was something that I have already encountered before and that really irks me, that history teachers at the college level can’t manage to cover the material that is in the assigned history course.  We split up our American history course at 1877, but I seem to be the only instructor that actually tries to cover the time period of the course.  As far as I can tell, the rest of the department usually gets to around 1850 in the first half of the course and to about 1950-60 in the second half.  To me, that is outrageous, but I seemed to come off as some sort of traditionalist fuddy-duddy (if that’s really a word) for raising the idea that we ought to teach the period that we are assigned to teach.  I cover the first half of American history to 1877 and get to 2001 in the second half of the course, and I just assumed that should be what everyone should be aiming for.  Instead, everyone else seemed to be perfectly comfortable with the fact that teaching American history that covers a certain period of time does not mean that you have to actually cover that period.  And the easy acceptance of that has me thinking if I’m somehow wrong in my own thinking.  I remember having surveys that didn’t complete the time period going all the way back to jr high/high school, when we ended in around 1850 and started up in 1877, meaning that I did not have anything on the Civil War or Reconstruction.  In fact, since I didn’t have to take the surveys, I didn’t actually take a course that covered that period until I took the actual Civil War and Reconstruction course at Rice.  To me and my fellow history majors, this always seemed like a big joke that a person couldn’t cover the finite ground of American history and bother to actually complete the course, and I made that a priority in my own teaching that I would always make sure that the students got the full coverage.  And this is not just because I feel that they should hear about everything, although that is something that I do believe, but that I think that if students are going to understand how history is relevant to their lives, you can’t just take a few bits here and there and leave out the rest and expect them to get a full picture of how the history of the country has affected how their own world is today.  Yet, I seem to come off as naive in my department for believing that actually covering the Civil War and Reconstruction period or the period after 1960 is somehow relevant and something that the students should have as part of their course sequence.  Some of them do argue that they cover all of it because they do assign all parts of the textbook and quiz them over the chapters that are not covered in class, but that seems to be a quite limited argument at best.

I was reminded that the current state standards for history don’t actually say anything about the subjects we are supposed to cover, but instead look at communication, social relations, and other aspects.  So, maybe I am the one that is backward.  If nobody but me believes that you should actually cover the material, then maybe I am the one who is wrong here.  So, as I said to start here, I’m trying to think about why it is that I believe in full coverage in the survey.  To me, it is just what you do, so it is hard for me to get my mind around not completing the course, so I am having quite a bit of trouble here.  I especially am troubled by the fact that when others don’t complete the course, and I then get them, I am referring to material that they are then unfamiliar with, as they didn’t get that coverage in another course.  But that is a fairly irrelevant argument really, as we all teach the class in different ways, so the emphases will always be different from one class to another.  There’s also the argument that if we are more concerned with teaching critical thinking, writing ability, and the like, then the actual specifics of the subject we teach is irrelevant.  But then, what am I doing teaching history at that point.  I’ll just teach a critical writing and thinking course with a few historical examples instead and call it a history class.  Is that where I’m supposed to be going?   If that’s the implication, that the actual history we study is irrelevant to the teaching process, then I have really been doing it wrong over the years.  When I say that I want to move beyond the lecture and flip my class, I am not talking about ditching the history all together, but that seemed to be the implication today, that you should just do your best to cover the material, but that the intention of turning the students into thinking people afterwards was more important than covering the material.  I don’t know if I’m characterizing what I heard incorrectly, but I am just troubled by the implications of it.

Here’s an illustration of what I find a problem.  This is from my syllabus, where I lay out the course objectives for my first half of American history course:

Course Objectives for HIST 1301

  1. Students will understand the following historical themes:
    1. colonization of the New World
    2. formation of the English colonies
    3. development of a unified colonial America
    4. creation of a revolutionary ideology
    5. development of a slave system
    6. creation of a national identity
    7. development and changes in religious, cultural, and social identity
    8. development of a divide between the North and South
    9. causes of the Civil War
    10. consequences of Reconstruction
  2. Students will understand the development of an American nation and how it is relevant to the world they live in today.
  3. Students will learn how to analyze historical evidence for validity, reliability, and bias.
  4. Students will understand how to use evidence to prove an argument.
  5. Students will understand the concept of historical significance, allowing them to put an event, idea, or person into historical context.
  6. Students will learn how to write coherent, well-thought-out material that presents their ideas and evidence in an organized manner.
  7. Students will be encouraged to question the standard assumptions of American history and use the history studied in this course to evaluate the place of the United States in the world today.

So, in what I understand about what I am trying to do in teaching American history would remain largely the same.  I’d just lose 9 and 10 from the first learning objective (and pieces of the others as well).  Is my course lesser because I don’t cover that material?  Am I doing my job if I don’t cover those parts?  I think so, personally, but, again, I seem to be in the minority.  This whole thing makes me very uncomfortable.  As one of the instructors in the room today said, there may be 17 chapters in the first half survey, but he only does 13 of them because he spends the first month going through the idea of “what is history” with the students, and that the time he has left over only allows him to get through Chapter 13 out of 17.  When I objected to this, I felt like I was belittled because I found it important that the instructors cover all 17 chapters.  But that’s really not it, it’s not that I think all 17 chapters are important, and I leave out a hell of a lot when I do teach a survey, as we all do.  But, when these are things that I have identified as fundamental to what the students should do in the course, then I can’t help but question whether I’m wrong or what.

I’ll have to come back to this when I have had more time to think about it, as I’m still a bit bewildered at the moment.

Thoughts on Education – 2/5/2012

Just try to find any actual news on educational topics on Super Bowl Sunday.  I dare you.  There’s not much out there, so I really don’t have any articles to bring forward here.  Today, I will just put in a brief word on what I’m thinking about these days.

I am unsatisfied with the status quo in education.  I seek change.  The problem that I have is getting to that change.  I have so many ideas but I do not know what will work and what won’t.  I have taught in many different ways over the time that I’ve been teaching, and the one constant has been change.  I do something different every semester just about, trying things out and seeing what works.  If it works, I keep it.  If it works sort of, I make changes.  If it doesn’t work, I drop it.

I started my teaching career in the most traditional way, working with discussion sections as a graduate student.  I did that for five years, working under numerous different professors.  My first was a several-hundred-person section under Jackson Spielvogel doing a Nazism and Fascism class.  That one was great, as we also had undergrad TAs in the mix, so we were all being taught how to be an effective TA.  After finishing up my comprehensive exams, I was put out there as a graduate lecturer.  What is interesting about that is that the only guidance I was given for how to teach my own sections was what I had done as a TA.  I don’t think the first teaching experiences went badly, but it was certainly a case of learning on the job.  And, as my only real model was teaching through lecture, that’s what I did.  Lecture and overhead projector images to start, with a move to PowerPoint not too long after that.  I taught multiple different classes at grad school, eventually leaving to get a job teaching at the community college where I am now.

Since being here, I have tried to adapt and change.  I became an online teacher as that was a requirement of the job.  I have moved to other things because I want to reach the students.  You know, “engagement” and all of that.  I just am not satisfied with passive delivery of information to the students, but finding other options are hard to work with and find.  I always feel like I’m on my own with this process.  So, I try something, test it out, see how it works, and move on in one way or another.  I have slowly moved to a greater online presence, regardless of the delivery format.  I now have an extensive online class and supplemental classroom for my in-class students.  In fact, I am mostly hybrid now, with all of the quizzing, homework and exams taking place outside of the classroom.  The only thing that’s left in class right now are the lectures, and, if you’ve been reading my other blogs here, you know how interested I am in the idea of “flipping” the classroom.  I would like to stop being the so-called “sage on  the stage” and turn into the class into a more interactive experience for the students, where they learn real skills rather than memorize the material.

The problems with this are many.  For one, I still feel like I’m going to be doing this largely on my own.  Second, how do you hold the students responsible for doing the work outside of class that has them ready to discuss or work on more specific topics in class?  Third, when you are moving away from the traditional ways of assessment, how do you hold to the state standards at that point?  These are all things I’m going to be thinking about as time goes by here.  I can’t promise I’ll come to solutions, but that’s what’s on my mind.

Now, as I am distracted by the Super Bowl streaming in the window next to me here, I will close for today.

Thoughts on Education, 1/31/2012

No links and articles today.  Just some thinking.

I guess the thing on my mind more than anything else is how radical of a change is acceptable and/or appropriate if I am to do a total redesign of my class next semester.  I’d like to jump in whole hog and change everything.  However, there’s the question of how to do it and if it would be accepted by the students and my fellow faculty members if I am doing something completely different.

So, here’s a basic outline of what I would like to do for my hybrid classes:  I would like to remove lecture from the class completely.  They will still have access to my lecture materials, as they do now, ie. through the lecture notes, PowerPoints, and audio podcasts that they have at the moment.  However, they would be material that the students would be responsible for working on outside of class, much like the textbook reading is now.  I would like to move beyond the idea that I am presenting them with the material.  There are two big reasons why I am unsatisfied with the lecture model:

  1. It puts me as an infallible authority on the material.  The students hear me lecture and write it down.  They then parrot those same things back to me on the assessments for the class, as if my interpretation and the things I cover were the only thing that was important out of all of the class.  The relationship of me as the deliverer of information as if from on high is uncomfortable to me, and it just breeds the idea of the students as passive learners.
  2. It covers things the students should have had before.  If I am echoing what the students were supposed to have learned in high school, then what am I doing.  Yes, I might go into more depth.  Yes, I might talk about different things with different emphases.  Yet, at the heart, I am delivering a historical narrative that should be no different from what they have had before.  The idea that a history class should be a chronological accounting of what has happened in history seems ridiculous to me.  If that is what I have trained for and what I get paid for, then this is an easy job.  Anybody can get up there and reread a textbook to them. But, what is that really teaching them?

So, what then takes the place of lecture, as that’s currently what I use 80% of my class time for?  I would like to divide my class of 45 in half, with half meeting on one day a week and the other half meeting on the other day.  Then I would like to have each day have a topic.  The students would come in prepared with having covered the basic information that is necessary and prepared to discuss something in more depth.  We would do history by actually talking about events, people, ideas, and such in history.  I would not give them the narrative and have that stand in as the whole class.  Instead, they would drive the class, through the topics that we would discuss.  The topics would not be comprehensive in nature, and they would not purport to tell the students everything that happened.

This certainly falls into the “flipping the classroom” model, turning the standard class on its head. The thing I worry is that it is too radical.  Could our community college students handle it?  Would they come prepared?  Would they do it?  What resources would I need?  Do I have time to recreate my class?  Is this too ambitious?

An example of what I could do one day comes from what I am currently calling an in-class activity in my class.  The subject is the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911.  The students are responsible for watching a 2-hour video and reading some short biographies of the people involved.  We will then discuss the event in class, talking about what happened, why it happened, what the result was, and how it fits into the history we have been studying.