Eric Mazurs peer instruction is very interesting and the article describing it’s use is inspiring. I found another article “Don’t lecture me: Rethinking how college students learn” describing his style of teaching by Emily Hanford. The article itself mirrored the others written on the topic and my attention was drawn to the comments section. One comment especially caught my attention.
A student opened up about his experiences on a physics class taught using only peer instruction. His experience was extremely negative as the class lacked structure and the TA did not even point the students to a correct direction during supplemental class, even if it was clearly needed. The answers to this post were basically telling the student to suck it up, work harder, and questioned his motivations.
This could be a case of resistance to learner centered model, but the student’s response hinted, that he had tried to talk to the professor and the university to have some sort of a balance. This alone could be a sign of commitment to the class. He was trying to make it better. The teacher has responsibility here to listen to the student and alleviate their anxieties. In case of one student, an open conversation is a good way to start. If multiple students in the class struggle severely despite the effort they put in, the teacher has a bigger problem.
To me this comment about peer instruction showed how the approach can go terribly wrong. Student could not make sense of the bigger picture or even the assigned. Even if this was just one students experience, I would be worried. The lack of any posts or responses from any professor or university on this matter leaves their side defenseless, so I cannot for a full understanding of the situation.
If any of the new or re-emerging pedagogical techniques are used like magic, they will not work. Just making students learn from each other will not work. The teacher needs to be invested in the students and their learning. This is the case with Dr. Mazur. He assesses students before starting the peer instruction and listens in on the conversations. When communicating about these “new” pedagogical techniques, we need to underline the increased involvement of the teacher. If this stuff was magic, universities and teachers would be no longer needed.
To most efficiently use information in designing experiments and learning concepts I need to draw it out. Paper is the best, but I can deal with PowerPoint if given enough time. Without the visuals I cannot comprehend large concepts and their connections to other topics and systems. By drawing out the experimental design I ensure no details are missed.
I keep my brain between pages and hope those pages never burn in a tragic accident. I find pen and paper to be still faster than typing on computer and more controlled than a touch pad. Also there is the fear that I manage to pour water on my laptop (again) and will have to open up the whole machine against manufacturers recommendations (again…).
This visualization allows me to appreciate the artistic side of science and the true beauty of details in functions and structures of cells. By just looking at ready made pictures I easily lose the intricate detail, which I am forced to draw out in my own notes. After drawing the coastline of Turkey, I appreciate the geography and understand it on a deeper level than by looking at the maps. After detailing the process of protein synthesis in a cell on paper, painstakingly drawing the different nooks of ribosomes, I can find the multiple spots where mutations and deformities in this machinery can cause problems.
Simple depiction of a ribosome making protein. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation_%28biology%29)
In some cases technology can help in finding the details and enhance the learning process. In the field of crystallography, proteins are pictured in extreme detail down to an atom. The level of accuracy when making predictions from these models is far greater than from any of my drawings. On the other hand the structures are not readily available in case of power outages, crashing computers, and when internet connection is not possible.
I would say there is a time and place for writing things on paper instead of relying on computers. Especially when brainstorming for new ideas, I have found paper superior to a screen. But the tools to start up this process we need to use the help of search engines, databases, visualization programs and calculations. We need to be the centaurs Clive Thompson describes in his book “Smarter than you think”. The digital technology available to us should be our extension in a way that helps us reach new heights. Problems arise when we lose focus and allow the technology to lead and make decisions for us.
In “Understanding by Design” by Wiggins and McTighe there was a nice quote from Jerome Bruner:
For any subject taught in primary school, we might ask [is it] worth an adult’s knowing, and whether having known it as a child makes a person better adult.
I have asked and have peers ask about relevance of topics in multiple classes during my whole education. And I don’t mean if it is important for the exam. Even in primary school students were questioning the need of religious studies, history, and physical education. And we did hear variations of “because I told you so” and uninformative “you will need this when you are an adult”. To a child adulthood seems so very far away. Defining the goals of each class and activity should have been obvious and I don’t know why teachers still fed us those generic answers.
The backwards planning of syllabus really painted a clear picture of how syllabus an classes should be designed to serve a defined purpose. We also need to communicate the importance of each task and class to students, no matter their age or level of expertise. And I don’t mean telling them they will need it to get along with everyone in the world. That could be too broad for students to relate to.
For example the history of my home country, Finland, is a weak spot in my knowledge. I asked why this was important and got a simple “you will need to know about your history, and be able to tell about it to others”. As a 12-year-old that had no connection to my life. It did not feel like my history in the first place with all the politicians and policies. And I could not comprehend, that anyone else would be interested in those things about my country.
Which motivational problems could be solved simply answering the “why?” questions students have in a way that will inspire them? I don’t think it will solve everything or even majority of the problems. But it might be needed to get all the other good changes to really make an impact.