When continuing biology lecturer David Bos worked with ITaP to add clickers, a student-response system, to his classes something more than his students clicked.
Lectures may have been fine for building knowledge and comprehension skills, but technology could help him meet the goal of improving his pre-professional students’ higher-level analysis and application skills. Six years later, he continues to remodel his course every year or so by adding or changing one element — a slow transformation to a more student-centered teaching model that is manageable despite teaching about 1,300 students in the fall and 850 in spring.
“Some faculty members see new technology as a massive undertaking, but no one says we have to add them all at once,” Bos says. “We need to take advantage of campus resources. ITaP ed techs, for example, have advanced degrees in pedagogy and instructional design and technologies. They ‘get’ what we need, and they want to help us.”
Clickers let Bos, who teaches fundamentals of biology, begin class with a question about the previous lecture’s content. Students answer via clicker and then discuss their answers in small groups. Bos says he’s found that students who initially didn’t know the answer tend to become more comfortable with the material through the group discussions. His listening to the discussions also tells him what he needs to review with the class.
More recently, Bos “flipped” reading assignments so students read a relevant chapter before his lecture and can send him content questions anonymously through Hotseat, an online tool from ITaP that uses social media for messaging. This exchange often tells him before a lecture what students don’t understand in the chapter. He says Hotseat also encourages first- and second-year students, who tend to be self-conscious about speaking up in a lecture hall filled with hundreds of peers, to ask more questions.
For fall semester 2012, Bos has started regularly communicating students’ performance in his course, along with tips for improvement, by using Blackboard Learn’s Early Warning System. Also this fall, the Office of the Provost provided funding for six teaching assistants through the Student Access, Transitions and Success (SATS) Programs. These undergraduates are serving as online coaches, guiding and encouraging struggling students and relaying information about supplemental instruction sessions. (Bos also credits the strong support of the Biology Department, which provides 15 TAs for each section of his class this fall, each with about 425 students, and other TAs to help in lab and recitation sessions.)
Like many faculty members, Bos started his career at Purdue lecturing several hundred first- and second-year students per course in a large lecture hall. By the end of his first year, he knew he needed a more engaging way to teach.
He wanted his students to have more practice analyzing and applying the material to their agronomy, animal science, forestry, pre-medicine, pre-nursing, pre-pharmacy, pre-veterinary and other life-science curriculums.
“I teach a rigorous course and, aside from content on cell biology, genetics, ecology and evolution, I hope to teach my students to analyze problems, offer solutions and apply newfound knowledge,” Bos says.
He made it a point to attend conferences and Purdue’s Center for Instructional Excellence (CIE) workshops on teaching and learned about the instructional technologies ITaP offers, such as class recordings, clickers and Hotseat.
Bos also devoted a summer to reworking his lessons to help students develop higher-level thinking skills. ITaP educational technologist Hans Aagard met with him weekly to remodel his course and give students more exposure to and practice in diagnosing problems and reaching solutions. Aagard and Bos worked through each lesson, writing achievable objectives for every lecture, lab and recitation class.
According to Aagard, their work was one of the pioneer efforts before the launch of the Purdue Provost’s IMPACT project — Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation — which aims to increase student academic success in introductory courses with large enrollments. Faculty who become IMPACT fellows work to engage students and improve performance by using best practices from research about teaching and learning. ITaP’s Academic Technologies unit is integral to the process.
“I believe our teaching role in higher ed is shifting from being content distributors to learning facilitators,” Bos says. “Students today are just not like the ones universities taught in the 1970s and 1980s. The Internet has changed that. They can now find the content, so our new purpose is to teach them how to judge the validity of source materials and apply what they know to real-world issues. And, we need to accept that the constancy of technology in their lives is here to stay.”
To schedule a one-on-one or small-group consultation about any ITaP instructional technology, contact ITaP’s teaching and learning staff. Faculty may wish to bookmark the ITaP training calendar for ongoing reference and workshop registration. ITaP educational technologists also address specific issues in instructional technology in their teaching and learning blog.
Writer: Carol Bloom, ITaP Communications, 765-496-7998, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Hans Aagard, in care of Donalee Attardo, director of ITaP’s instructional services, ITaP Academic Technologies, 765-494-2696, email@example.com
Suzanne Ahlersmeyer, instructional designer, ITaP Academic Technologies, 765-496-7403, smahlers@purdue,.edu
David Bos, continuing lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences, 765-494-8528, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: Sept. 11, 2012