Author: tfreeman

Faculty Focus: Three Critical Conversations Started and Sustained by Flipped Learning

Three Critical Conversations Started and Sustained by Flipped Learning

By Robert Talbert, PhD

The flipped learning model of instruction has begun to make the transition from an educational buzzword to a normative practice among many university instructors, and with good reason. Flipped learning provides many benefits for both faculty and students. However, instructors who use flipped learning soon find out that a significant amount of work is sometimes necessary to win students over to this way of conducting class. Even when the benefits of flipped learning are made clear to students, some of them will still resist. And to be fair, many instructors fail to listen to what students are really saying.

Most student “complaints” about flipped learning conceal important questions about teaching and learning that are brought to the surface because of the flipped environment. Here are three common issues raised by students and the conversation-starters they afford.

Student comment: “I wish you would just teach the class.”

Conversation-starter: Why do we have classes?

This issue is often raised once it becomes clear that class time will focus on assimilating information, not transmitting it. For many students, the only kind of instruction they have ever known is the in-class lecture, so it is quite natural for them to conflate “teaching” and “lecturing”. Hence, students are perhaps justifiably unsettled to see their teacher not “teaching”.

When students raise this concern, it is an opportunity to have a conversation about why classes meet — or for that matter, why they exist —in the first place. When students want the professor to “just teach”, the professor can pose the following: We can either have lecture on basic information in class, and then you will be responsible for the harder parts yourselves outside of class; or we can make the basic information available for you prior to class, and spend our class time making sense of the harder parts. There is not enough class time for both. Which setup will help you learn better?

Student comment: “I learn best through listening to a lecture.”

Conversation-starter: How does one learn?

Students who have made it through secondary schooling believe that since lecturing “worked” in the sense that they made it to college under a lecture-centric system, lecture is the most effective means of teaching — in fact, the only means of teaching that “works”. (Indeed, many university instructors believe the same thing.)

I respond to this with a question: What are the three most important things you have ever learned? Here are my three: speaking my native language, feeding myself, and going to the bathroom. When the student comes up with his or her list, I follow up: How did you learn those things? The answer is always that it’s a mixture of a bit of direct instruction (which is largely ignored), along with a lot of trial and error and peer pressure. No student has ever responded that they learned these things only by listening to a lecture. No student ever will!

If a person has demonstrated repeatedly that he can learn important things in his life without lecture, on what basis does one say that they learn best through lecture? Maybe the ability to learn on one’s own is more deeply connected to one’s humanity than we suspect. Which brings up the last issue:

Student comment: I shouldn’t have to teach myself the subject.

Conversation-starter: Why are we here?

In the flipped classroom, students are expected to gain fluency with basic ideas in preparation for class time, rather than as the result of class time. It is easy for a student to see this as self-teaching and respond negatively. A variant of this is, “I’m paying you to teach me!” At its core, this is not an issue about who is paying whom, but about the purpose of higher education.

We might approach the student simply by asking: What is the purpose of college? Why are you here? Among the more noble answers include career preparation, personal growth, and obtaining life experiences. What do these good things have in common? I am convinced that each student’s reasons for being in college will intersect at the notion oflearning how to learn. Career success, meaningful growth, and formative experiences all involve acquiring the ability and the taste for learning new things, independently and throughout one’s lifespan. Why not start that process now?

It’s easy to be defensive when, as an instructor, students voice seemingly belligerent opposition to the flipped classroom. But if we listen closely, we’ll hear those complaints as invitations to important conversations that can shape student learning for the better.

Dr. Robert Talbert is an associate professor in the mathematics department at Grand Valley State University.

From Faculty Focus, March 2, 2015

from Faculty Focus: Office Hours Redux

Office Hours Redux

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD

In the final post of 2014, I shared some comments about blog “conversations,” wondering what else we might do to take our exchanges to the next level. The comments made in response to a post are typically shared across a period of time. If you’re one of the first to comment, do you return later to read what other folks had to say? I’m doubtful that many us of have that sort of time.

The January 21 post about students not making use of office hours generated a nice collection of suggestions to remedy the problem. From the roughly 30 comments, a few themes emerged. Here’s a compilation of those themes, along with some questions and thoughts that I’m hoping will take the conversation further. Please let me know if they do or don’t and whether you find these types of posts helpful.

Schedule office hours when they’re convenient. That is, at times convenient for the teacher and for the students. One commenter described circulating a calendar with possible times and having students initial those that don’t work for them. Or, you can solicit data from students about best times via a program like Doodle poll. Don’t schedule office hours during times when lots of classes are offered. Seems like this should go without saying, but sometimes student convenience takes second place. Let students schedule appointments electronically: was recommended. It’s free and you can link to it from your course website.

Require a visit, preferably early in the course. If the visit is to discuss some course issue, say possible term paper topics, that conversation can show students the value of meeting with the prof. They receive good feedback on the topic they’re considering, get ideas about other options, and can ask questions about assignment details. I have to admit I’m troubled by making it a course assignment. Does requiring students to do things teach them why they should do those things, or does the act of requiring make that learning less likely? One reader shared that she invites each student with a personal note (staggering the notes so she’s not overwhelmed). Those who don’t show for a meeting get a “missed you” note. Students make the choice albeit under conditions that make it harder to not show up.

Reward those who come with points. Make the visit worth something; those who use this approach recommend just a small amount of points. You also could reward with food—fruit, protein bars, or a less nutritious, but likely more popular, option like candy. We give our beagle a treat if, at bedtime, she goes outside and does her business in a timely manner. Does she need a treat to hurry her back inside when it’s 10 degrees? Probably not. It’s not quite the same, but do points reinforce the belief that every educational activity must include them?

Meet someplace other than the office. Suggestions included “student spaces” like the student center or the campus cafeteria. One commenter reported that after a late afternoon class, she proceeds to the cafeteria for dinner, inviting students to join her for a “chat and chew.” That reminded me of the four years I had my office in a student resident hall (off one of the study lounges). I scheduled some evening office hours and I was always surprised by how many students showed up. Or, as someone else suggested, meet with students in a shared space, say the classroom, and call that time a review session. Invite students to drop by individually or in groups. You could even designate a review session topic. “I’ll be in our classroom between 4:30 and 5:00 doing more cost differential estimates.” If meeting someplace else isn’t a viable option, consider this suggestion: turn your office into something that resembles a student lounge. Stock it with chocolate and stress reducing toys.

There was a comment about how much student interaction occurs electronically. Maybe we should just forget office hours and meet them digitally. But as the commenter noted, it’s important to be able to talk with people face-to-face. Finding the office and feeling some discomfort about having to talk with their professor is great practice for other conversations students will need to have in the future.

For yet another approach to office hours, I encourage you to take a look at a 2006 issue of College Teaching. In it two professors report on their experiences with a reformatted kind of office hours: something they call “course centers.” Read a synopsis here >>