Each year, I try to work on one thing to improve my teaching. In 2007, I worked on lecturing for only 10 minutes at a time (research has shown that this is as long as an adult’s attention span). In 2008, I mainly concentrated on learning about the students at my new school. In 2009, I focused in decreasing extrinsic rewards.
In 2010, I have two problems that I would like to solve:
- Not enough of my students really understand the material. In a good semester, maybe 50% of the students have a reasonable understanding of the material.
- My grading system has not been accurate enough. I have too many students who get different grades than they deserve; furthermore, my grading system does not tell students what they need to work on—a 70% on an exam does not give much information about what the student should study.
The first problem will be addressed by a serious implementation of Cooperative Learning (CL). This is different from “group work.” CL is a specific type of group work that has 114 years of history and an overwhelming amount of evidence in the psychology literature that it improves student learning.
To be CL (and not just vanilla group work), these five principles must be in place:
- Positive interdependence—the group members must sink or swim together. This creates an incentive for the students to work together.
- Individual accountability—students will work in groups, but will be graded and assessed as individuals. This makes it impossible to be a “freeloader.”
- Face to face interaction—it is difficult to work together if you cannot see each other.
- Explicit instruction of group skills—one should not assume that students (or anyone, for that matter) already knows how to work in a group.
- Group processing—groups need to reflect on how they performed and create plans for improvement.
If all five of these principles are in place, the average student will perform somewhere between 0.61 and 0.88 standard deviations higher than the average student who is not taught with these five principles (see Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Ressearch by Johnson and Johnson). According to Wolfram Alpha, this is like the average student being 5’6″ and an average CL student being between 5’11” and 6’1.5.”
The problem is that it takes valuable class time to do this. My solution: do away with the lecture as much as possible to create time for the students to work. My solution: “invert” my classroom (thanks to Robert Talbert for the idea and name). I am planning to use online videos to introduce the topic to them outside of class. I am definitely using Khan Academy for linear algebra, although these videos are not quite appropriate for my “essential calculus” students. I may have to give 10-15 minute lectures in this calculus class instead of employing the videos.
The class time will largely be spent on fielding questions about the video, small group projects, formal and informal assessment, and group processing.
In many ways, it sounds like Patrick Bahls and I are having a similar semester. We both have a calculus and a linear algebra, both are working on minimizing lecture time (although he is further along than I am), and we are both working on changing our grading systems (although mine is a more radical change—see the forthcoming post).