Students from passive receptors to dancers?!!!

As an instructor, crafting your teaching philosophy that you believe is the most effective for your students is not an easy task. As Sarah Deel mentioned, you probably as a new instructor will try to imitate the way your professors used to teach you when you were in school. However, everyone has his own personality and not all instructors can do the same thing and be effective for students. In addition, students are different from each other and accordingly, one method of instruction is not effective for all students. So, how to figure out a method of instruction that suits your personality and is effective for your students is really a challenging task.

According to me I believe in active learning as a good way of conveying knowledge to students. It was mentioned in several educational research papers that engagement is a key factor in student understanding. Active learning turns the student from a passive receptor of knowledge (less engagement) to an active generator of knowledge (high engagement). So how can this be achieved?

I will take an example from a computer science course named “Data Structures and Algorithms” which is a critical course in any computer science curriculum and contains a lot of abstract concepts with no physical manifestation. This makes it really hard for students to easily grasp these concepts. The old traditional way of teaching this course is to present the idea behind a particular algorithm and show its pseudo code and try to discuss what this code is doing. For example here is the pseudo code for one of the most important sorting algorithms named Insertionsort.

code-insertion-sort

As you see this code describes the dynamic process of sorting a list of numbers. It is really hard to make your students understand this mechanical process using static pseudo code representation. I bet the students will not be engaged to this method of presentation.

Another method of presenting this is to provide a visual animated depiction to this dynamic sorting process. I believe this to be a large leap from the traditional pseudo code approach, but still the students are passive in that they are just viewing what is going on in the animation without being actually active. Here is an example of an animation for Insertionsort from the OpenDSA project at Virginia Tech.

http://algoviz.org/OpenDSA/NewKA/OpenDSA/AV/Sorting/insertionsortAV.html

What about making students learn this sorting algorithm with dancing? Believe me we can do that. Look at this Video.

If we can make our students learn this hard and abstract concepts by performing a joyful engaging act like dancing, then we have turned our students from passive receivers to active generators of knowledge. The only drawback of this method is that it is embarrassing to most of the students. But I totally agree with  Sarah Deel when she mentioned that if you as an instructor described the reason of doing this type of activities to your students as to make them learn better, I believe they will like to participate.

11 Responses so far.

  1. AbdelRahman says:

    Thanks for the effective ideas you brought in your post. I think using such ways of teaching will not be embarrassing for students if we as instructors joined them in doing so. I feel that the best way to let students learn is to get them involved in the process of learning. I mean not to give them everything and only ask them to memorize, otherwise if they participate in an activity like dancing or playing, they well get the most of this learning.

  2. Homero says:

    Thanks for sharing!

    I enjoyed reading your post. Well, I think you can start by finding some videos like this where students can watch all the cool stuff that we can use to learn, so even if they are shy to participate, they can still see the information in a non-traditional way.

    • mfseddik says:

      Yes you are right. But I think viewing the video is also one type of passive learning. I want the students to be immersed in the process of knowledge generation and to be active.

  3. A. Nelson says:

    I enjoyed this as well and your title really caught my eye! I’m wondering if you think students would benefit more from participating in the “coding dance” or watching it? If it’s too embarrassing to enact, could they do something comparable with blocks or beads?

    • mfseddik says:

      I think students would benefit more from participating in the dance rather than just viewing it. Of course if they are embarrassed, we can find something similar such as beads or blocks as you mentioned. The idea is to make the student more active and not just a receiver accepting knowledge. However, I still prefer dancing for those who are not embarrassed, since this may impose some sense of joy within the class.

  4. Aakash says:

    I like the idea of using non-computer-related activities to teach a concept in computer science. CS is more than just computers, it is a way of thinking. And as you mention, incorporating activities would also engage students more.

    Do you think it is a good idea to use deck of cards in class to teach sorting? Bubble sort, insertion sort, selection sort, etc. can all be taught with decks of cards.

    Also, in the same line, you may be interested in CSUnplugged (http://csunplugged.org/). They have physical activities and other games to teach computational concepts. This may work even for college-level students!

    • mfseddik says:

      Yes sure. Deck of cards can be used. Any kind of activity that engage the students would be helpful. Thank you very much for the link.

  5. Kate V. says:

    I loved the dance video! When I looked at the code you posted, my eyes glazed over and I felt immediately bored. But very quickly with the dance video I could tell what was happening! I think that if I were a student in a class learning that, I would be more interested in sitting down and studying the code after I saw what it could do.

    I don’t think that many college students would be too embarrassed to do something like that in class. Maybe a few would be shy, but I think if the professor made a friendly environment in the class, everyone would be excited to participate! I think humans have an innate love of doing fun and even silly activities.

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