When Marie Nydam, an assistant professor of biology at Centre College, began teaching a genetics course, she vowed to stray from the traditional lecture methods. As an undergraduate, many of her courses were traditional-lecture and Nydam found herself bored in class, but working very diligently outside of class to learn the material. “After taking an ‘Innovative Teaching in Sciences’ course in graduate school, I discovered numerous methods for active learning: the possibilities are endless.” Nydam began involving her students in class discussions, group work, case studies, simulations, just-in-time teaching and learning, and practical application of the material, rather than lecturing. Her focus since then has been on innovative teaching strategies to engage her students and promote a more vibrant learning environment.
When she embarked on lecture-free teaching methods, she took some Centre College students by surprise. Their new experiential learning atmosphere required a much more self-directed learning approach, and students found the innovative teaching strategies challenging at first. Students frequently struggle with self-motivation and often expect the information to be given to them, which can be a difficult transition when moving to a flipped classroom experience. The responsibility for information-gathering is now in the hands of the student, leaving class time focused on gaining understanding of the material and applying their knowledge. Once the pattern is established, students find this new learning approach extremely rewarding because they can see the tangible benefits of learning in the classroom, placing higher significance on the value of in-class participation.
By affording students the time to acquire information outside of class, the class sessions can be solely focused on explanation and application of the material. “I asked my students what part of learning was the hardest to do on their own; they stated understanding concepts and applying knowledge was much more difficult than acquiring information.”
The active class session allows students to fully engage with the material and their peers through group work and problem solving activities. By experiencing the material multiple times and in multiple ways, students are prepared to apply their new knowledge and understanding in upper-level or post-graduate courses, and careers.
The challenges of adopting a lecture-free methodology have been the long hours of pre-planning and finding ways to increase student participation levels. In the fall, Nydam had students email her after class with confusing points or misunderstandings. She used these points to tailor the next class discussion in a just-in-time (JIT) teaching fashion. After consistently receiving limited student feedback, she altered the spring courses by having students complete a short, graded quiz prior to class. Student participation soared to 95%, allowing for increased engagement during class sessions. Higher levels of feedback provides significantly more data from which to pull and structure her JIT teaching. Plentiful discussions spring up from the quiz results and Nydam’s elucidation of the material; the more confusing points she gathers, the more in-class discussions are possible.
Nydam found that the long hours of preparation for each course helps provide students with a more dynamic learning experience. Nydam’s course is one of many at Centre College where students are experiencing a paradigm shift as the classroom transforms from lecture into an engaging and interactive opportunity.
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