For Jason Neiser, professor of Physics, teaching offers an opportunity to inspire independent student learning through Just-In-Time teaching (JiTT) strategies. Neiser admits he used to teach straight lecture, teaching what he thought was relevant for students to know while they passively absorbed the information he was giving them. However, early in his teaching career, he attended a new faculty workshop held by the American Physical Society at which he learned several innovative teaching methods. One of these methods particularly captured his attention due to the dynamic and engaging classroom atmosphere it created and he transformed his teaching style by employing this innovative pedagogical technique, JiTT, into his classes. Neiser says he has never looked back.
As Neiser explains, once he began teaching in this new way, he quickly began to recall his own educational experiences at Centre College, particularly his most difficult class with Professor Wilt, Advanced Electricity and Magnetism. For this class, professor Wilt assigned typical text readings but it was the students’ responsibility to drive the class discussion based on elements of the text that they didn’t understand. He remembers being forced to work through the material much more substantially, and ultimately learning more than if he had simply listened to a lecture. Neiser says the ways in which Dr. Wilt transformed the classroom into an opportunity for students to lead and excel academically made a huge impact on him and ultimately his teaching style.
JiTT uses strategies to encourage deep personal exploration of the material both outside the classroom and within. Neiser wants his students to: develop the ability to learn independently; deeply struggle with and process the material on their own; and come to class to have those ideas further developed. Following independent student reading, each student submits a response to the reading indicating ideas or topics they didn’t understand. This process helps tailor the class discussion toward relevant topics and deeper understanding of the material.
Neiser says the classroom teaching experience is now much more dynamic, fun, and feels like a true collaborative effort with fruitful discussion. He is quick to say that students are not expected to “get it” on the first go-around, which is why the classroom discussion aids so much in targeting student learning of the material. With JiTT, the students have the opportunity to become familiar with the material prior to actually understanding the specifics. This method helps students identify their own misconceptions and misunderstandings and gain from peer discussion in class what they were missing on their own.
When using JiTT, Neiser’s advice to other faculty is to be upfront about the responsibilities and expectations you have for your students. Let them know you expect them to struggle – a lot – but to be persistent and to write about what they don’t understand. As he explains, as a result of this process, they will really know where they are in their understanding of the material after class discussions. The results will pay off.
Student responses on course evaluations indicated that the new method effectively helped Neiser accomplish his goals. As one student shared, “Yeah, it was a lot of work, but I feel like I really got it better. It was a much more personal experience and I loved that you were answering a question that I raised before the class started.”
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