My Most Unique Class Experience

My closest experience to a case-based class was a graduate class at Virginia Tech on Decision Analysis. It was more of a flipped course in which we had to prepare for the material and were handed a related challenging problem at the beginning of the class. We formed students’ teams, and the professor had a facilitator role and helped us reach the correct solution. When the problems were more challenging, he would solve them at the end of the class after setting the tone by having us entertaining all possible solutions and scenarios. We were very eager to know the answer at that point, which helped bring home all the key points. Among all the many classes I have been to, this was the most unique that I always remember about. It was the most engaging and inclusive while being team-oriented. I am saying that because I did not use to have good experience with class teamwork. In most traditional classes, in-class team works are a way for the professor to rest and are not very productive more often than not. Defining some group task is not enough for the teamwork to take place. It is critical to peak students’ interests and designs the right structure to do justice to teamwork.

What I think made the Decision Analysis class successful was in a way that it facilitated effective teamwork. For one thing, the topic of decision analysis is very easy to connect with, engaging, and applicable to every aspect of life. At least I was lucky to have this class with people who felt the same way about the topic. While some of the problems sounded trivial at the surface, we were puzzled and had to give it our best. The class’s second influential quality was the professor’s ability to keep enthusiasm and create an environment of friendly competitions. We all wanted to be our best, and this made a lot of difference.

I think classes like this can help bridge the gap between real-world projects or graduate school research with undergraduate education. Teachers adopt the role of facilitators of learning, much more similar to that of graduate advisors. Rather than having a teacher provide hard facts, students are faced with contextualized, ill-structured problems and are asked to investigate and discover meaningful solutions and develop critical thinking. This helps students to learn mindfully and build their unique and creative way of thinking. Besides, when professors give the students the chance to think about the topic for themselves, they don’t risk going overboard and bombarding them with more things than they can grasp.

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6 Responses to My Most Unique Class Experience

  1. samsalous says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. When professors teach in the way of hard facts and one-way teaching, fresh graduates end up having to learn how to properly apply whatever they retained from the class to real world problems, and sometimes that can be rough and discouraging. In addition, the Case-based learning, or even Problem-based learning, provides an environment where resources and guidance are available, as you said students would give it their best shot and do the research but in the end of the day the professor is there to help them tie it all together and find the correct answers. This last point is very important in my opinion because it is not always available on the job and can impact the person’s performance and perhaps their ability to succeed in their career.
    -Sam

  2. Emily Burns says:

    I appreciated reading about this memorable class. One of my undergraduate classes involved debating the worth and value of charter schools. I still remember learning how to speak up to share my opinions on various topics. I am not usually someone who debates, but I learned how to share my thoughts and back them up with evidence in this course. Although we were not working on a real-life problem in this course, we were debating a hot topic in my field. I share this experience because your posted reminded me of a class I took over a decade ago. It speaks to the power of using problem-based learning as a means of teaching. Another similarity to my class and your class was that the instructor served as a facilitator for our learning. She asked us challenging questions and pushed us to think. As GTAs and potentially future teachers, it is important we learn how to challenge students to engage with course material.

  3. Amilia Evans says:

    The course that you described is truly a unique structure. I had not heard of the “flipped” concept prior to reading your post. I watched the video, and I am still not entirely sure that I understand what “flipping” is but I grasp that the concept engages students in a way that makes them responsible for their own learning as well as training them to not fall behind—empowering the students to be successful. It is quite unfortunate that helping students grow and learn through continuous guidance rather than emphasizing grade penalties is not the norm. “Flipped” should already be the educational experience, and we should not require a term like “flipped” to get teachers on board with reframing their pedagogical practices.

    Also, your discussion about teamwork caught my attention because I teach a writing class that requires the students to work in groups of 2 or 3. As you mentioned a few things about what you enjoyed I noted some keywords and phrases: “engaging,” “inclusive,” “team-oriented,” “peak students’ interests,” and “design the right structure.” I am now motivated to look into ways that I can better engage my students and reimagining what their collaborative writing experiences can look like by structuring a scenario that they can use as a framework in future collaborative opportunities.

  4. Ali says:

    Thanks for sharing your interesting experience. I think what you said was an example of how one can take advantage of case-based learning to spark an interest in the topic in the students while simultaneously enhancing the skill of critical thinking in them. I think this style can be used for many of the classes that we have and can be very effective. First, the students are exposed to some problems with the topic which requires them to read the material and analyze it before coming to the class. Then, they would have some pre-eagerness to attend the class. Also, they would know better what are the important topics that they need to focus on and what are the right questions to ask, which maybe not the same for different students.

  5. silknets says:

    Thanks for sharing this post! For another class this semester, I was just looking at what makes a successful team (see one article here: https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/), and it relates to how this course changed your perception of what good teamwork can look like in a class. Like you, I have had bad group experiences in the past, with some classes having group assignments that left me burdened with extra work and lacking any team chemistry. The studies we looked at showed that creating a safe space for teamwork to occur in is at the core of a successful team, much more so than the problem itself or how you try to solve it. Though I’m not familiar with the Decision Analysis course you referred to, it sounds like the instructor was an excellent facilitator and was able to motivate their students. I think when there is a good leader for a course, that it gives students the atmosphere to excel, and it clearly seems like you were able to just that! You wrote that “we all wanted to be our best, and this made a lot of difference.” By creating this environment of positivity, your professor revealed the tools you already had and allowed your team to succeed – I hope we can all learn from that lesson! Great post.

  6. deryaipek says:

    Thank you for the post! I had a similar experience, and I was able to relate my experience with yours. I think you make a great point by covering the importance of teamwork. I think in a PBL design where the problems are not trivial and complicated, collaboration among students help reaching better solutions. Furthermore, students learn how to work in teams. But before all that, the success of course depends highly on the professor. As you said, professor acts like a facilitator in the class (maybe even like a advisor). I think what adds to the success is the leadership skills of the professor. If the professor motivates, encourages and inspires students, students will do their best to make more progress, and inevitably, they will learn more.

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