Earlier this week I received an inspirational email from Chris Masterjohn, an instructor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. His email is included, below. It outlines a transformative process in student learning involving the innovative use of i>clicker, the centrally supported student response system on campus. This change was primarily due to Chris’ commitment to teaching and an eagerness to try new and innovative practices to enhance student learning. I would like to point out (and Chris makes mention of this) that there were also a series of inspirations, influences, and exposures to technology and positive pedagogical implications that contributed to the process. As a part of a team effort between the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) and Campus Information Technology and Educational Services (CITES), plus some inspiring ideas from faculty using student response systems on campus (in a co-sponsored brown bag) Chris was able to see up front the value of the technology and how it could be implemented to increase student learning. -JN
Dear i>clicker Enthusiasts,
I want to thank you all for your efforts in encouraging the use of i>clickers and share my experience.
I am a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Comparative Biosciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. I teach the vitamins and minerals section of a team-taught class, “Structure and Function III,” which has about 15 other instructors, almost all of whom are faculty members, and which is the exclusive course taken in the last quarter of the first academic year for the veterinary students. This year there were 122 students in the class. I teach eight 50-minute lectures in lecture hall format with no discussion sections or TAs. Each instructor contributes material to the quiz and exams that is proportional to the amount of teaching done. The exams take place over two days. The first day consists of pooled questions from each instructor while the second day consists of questions developed in a collaborative manner that integrate various instructors’ material.
I first learned of i>clickers about a month before I started teaching, earlier in this semester when I took Cheelan’s [Cheelan Bo-Linn, CITL] workshop, Getting Students Active & Engaged. In the workshop we discussed evidence showing that student retention of material drops dramatically after ten to fifteen minutes of continuous lecture. We used i>clickers in the workshop and I had never seen them before but was immediately impressed.
I thought that it would be great if I could use i>clickers for five minutes of interactive material in between each 12 minutes of lecture to allow the students to stay engaged and recharge their brains. Sample questions are in high demand in my past experience, so I figured a good i>clicker activity would be answering sample questions and then discussing them.
Not too long after, I took Lucas’s [Lucas Anderson, CITL] workshops on making learning objectives and syllabi for the second time, where he made the point that exams should test what the students get practice doing in class. This reinforced my desire to spend time going over sample questions with the i>clickers.
I wound up following this format and cutting out at least half of my material to do it. My exam questions tend to focus on higher-order thinking, so we essentially spent a third of the class time learning how to think through the material we learned in the other two thirds. I made the exams significantly more challenging than last year, and the students performed significantly better on them. I do not think it is exaggerating to say that I taught half as much material as last year and yet the students learned twice as much.
The biggest difference I noticed, though, is the change in the kinds of questions I received from students. Last year I got a lot of questions about how to grapple with the material. I felt like they were climbing on the surface of a rock and trying to figure out where to put their hands to grab hold. This year I didn’t get any questions like that, instead got a lot of questions about understanding the actual content, but most importantly, got a LOT of questions based in mere curiosity about the material, students asking things about it not because they felt they had to know the answers for the exam but because they were interested in thinking about the implications of the material beyond what we were thinking about in class. I believe that they were much more deeply engaged with the material and were therefore thinking about it and conversing with it more fluently and confidently.
At the end of my last lecture, we stopped at the minute class ended, and one of the students raised her hand. I called on her and she said that she wanted to thank me for spending the time going through sample questions the way we did because no one else does this and it is extremely helpful to them. I told them a two-minute version of the above story, and then received a whole room full of applause. By that time it was five minutes into their ten minute break before the next lecture and no one had left. I felt very appreciated.
Anyway I’m sorry this is quite long but I really feel grateful to all of you for helping me do a much better job teaching this time around. To see the difference in student behavior, performance, and curiosity between last year and this year strongly reinforces my confidence that the way I teach really matters and this makes me love teaching even more.