Ideas & Insights from a Pedagogical Innovations Journal Club

23 Feb Books Stacks at Cincinnati Public Library, circa 1900. Photo from Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

The Pedagogical Innovations Journal Club was created to help busy instructors keep up with some of the latest innovations, ideas, and research published in pedagogical journals. Each month’s discussion focuses on a recently-published, teaching- or learning-related article. The open forum provides opportunities for participants to address the practical implications of the research findings with other instructors. Each session begins with a brief synopsis of the article, serving as a reminder of or introduction to that month’s featured reading. With this post, we’ll provide an overview of recent readings and discussions for TILT readers.

1. On Active Learning Improving Learning

A recent reading – “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics,” from The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, and by Scott Freeman and colleagues – offers a metareview of studies that compared active learning teaching approaches with lecture-based teaching approaches in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The authors found overall on average student performance on exams increased by 0.47 SDs using active learning approaches compared to lecture. The authors state that “STEM instructors may begin to question the continued use of traditional lecturing in everyday practice.”

For more commentary about this article see the TILT blog post on the article: http://wp.me/p1Mdiu-ZE.

2. When “Structures” Enhance Student Learning

As a follow up, the pedagogical club reading addressed specific classroom-based, active learning activities: “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?” published in CBE Life Sciences Education. The authors – Sarah Eddy and Kelly Hogan – examined the active learning approach of “Moderate-Structure” to determine what factors were responsible for the positive effects of active learning (increased performance, decreased failures).

Here, “structure” refers to the systematic use of specific teaching elements: graded preparatory assignments, student in-class engagement, and graded review assignments. The more of each of these elements is used, the more structured the course is said to be, i.e. low, moderate and high structure. The authors found three factors that correlated with improved performance in the moderate-structure course:

  • more frequent completion of the reading assignments,
  • spending more time studying for class, and
  • feeling an increased sense of community.

More specifically, the authors disaggregated student data to look at the effect of moderate-structure on learning in students from specific racial and ethnic groups or being a first generation college attendee. They found that increased structure improved course performance for all students but worked disproportionately well for black and first generation students. Some participants in this group appreciated the concrete, prescriptive approaches suggested in the article.

3. Inventorying Our Active Learning Practices

“The Teaching Practices Inventory: A New Tool for Characterizing College and University Teaching in Mathematics and Science” provided the follow up focus. Written by Nobel prize winning physicist Carl Wieman and Sarah Gilbert, and published in CBE Life Science Education, the article reports on authors’ creation of a teaching inventory that attempts to characterize every teaching practice used by college mathematics and science instructors. Testing the resulting inventory on over 150 Math and Science instructors, the authors found that the inventory captured the vast majority of these instructors’ teaching approaches. Additionally, the inventory could also be drawn on to provide a profile of departmental teaching methods and show improvement in teaching within a department. The validity of the inventory was tested by administering it to known successful instructors.

Participant reaction to this inventory was generally favorable; however, one faculty member remarked that it could be seen as “just another instrument that tells us we’re doing something wrong.” This provoked further conversation that led some to believe that instructors would provide honest answers – vital for the inventory to be useful – only if it was used formatively, rather than summatively in any type of evaluative fashion.

Invitation to Attend & Suggest Readings

Participant feedback at each of the workshops indicates that the discussions were useful. Furthermore, more than one person commented that the journal club motivated them to read a pedagogical article every month. Some participants stated that they just skimmed or did not read the article(s), and still found the discussion helpful.

These one hour sessions are held on the third Tuesday of each month at the UMinnesota, and all those interested in pedagogical innovations are invited to attend. We also offer remote attendance if you can’t make it to campus. Check the Center’s homepage for more information and to register for future sessions: http://www.teaching.umn.edu. If you have articles or topics you would like to discuss at a future journal club, please email me at pete6647@umn.edu.

And, stay tuned here for future blog posts that follow up journal club discussions.

The Articles

1.  Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics – Freeman

2.  Getting under the hood – Eddy

3.  The Teaching Practices Inventory – Wieman

 

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