The point of university pedagogics!?

The writers of this blog, Charmi, Christian, Francesco, Louise, all have an interest in pedagogics and decided to take a course in university pedagogics.

This blogpost was made as part of module two in university pedagogics. During the course we have been able to participate and arrange active learning instances. The course participants were split up in four groups and each group was responsible for arranging one workshop utilising an active learning technique of our choice. This has been a positive experience for all of us and many have expressed their desire to incorporate some of the forms in their teaching. It was especially eye-opening to try out the techniques ourselves and afterwards brainstorm about pros and cons.

Doctoral students are encouraged to include 5 credits of university pedagogics in their official study plan for the degree. There is no formal requirement for staff to have university pedagogics at the time of employment, however if they have no previous courses they are required to complete some within two years. Teachers at level 1 are required to complete 5 credits worth and teachers at level 2 are required to complete 10 credits worth of university pedagogics. The recommended amount of university pedagogics for staff is 15 credits [1].

A small poll done at the dynamic ecology blog asked readers to report how big fraction of the lecture time they use for lecturing and why they choose that approach. The respondents who use more than 75% of the time lecturing chose some of the following alternatives: a need to cover a lot of material, lack of support, in form of teaching assistants, to use other forms of teaching, want to use existing material, don’t know how to implement other approaches, feel that the class is too big for other forms of teaching, people enjoy lecturing, too big risk of failure and the list goes on. Of the respondents, who said they lecture less than 75% of the time, 51% indicated that they lecture less because of knowledge of pedagogic research [2].

Research showed how active learning, even if is not the cure for all educational problems, has a positive effect on learning in general [3] and also on specific learning outcome, both related to the content of the lecture, for example academic achievement or related to personal characteristic, for example higher self-esteem [4], This is particularly important related to the engagement of “millennial” students, who are more difficult to engage with classical teaching methods [5].

For example, the analysis presented in [6] investigates the importance of active learning strategies and analyses the possible obstacles to be overcome. The active learning methods compare to traditional, conventional methods of instruction produce different learning outcomes and provide most effective learning within a given time limit and lengthy course content. All over the world, new recommendation are spreading, highlighting the importance of use active learning as common teaching strategy [7].

However, the active learning strategies needs to be planned well in advance in order to maximize their positive effects, moreover, they are more effective if personally comfortable. The researchers practicing active learning methods while teaching are more concerned with how well the students master the contents. In order to follow the timeline within the classroom the strategies could involve more interaction between the teacher and students rather than interaction among student.

A successful example of active methods is the one used by Prof Jim Eison (Department of Adult, Career & Higher Education University of South Florida) [8]. The researcher prepare pre-class material with short writes, involves more YES/NO answering questions and structure the group discussion in a way that follows the outline of the course. Content of the course could be formulated as a poem or photograph for students to analyze and extract possible understanding.

For the self-improvement, a questionnaire is prepared for self-assessment of the applied active learning strategy. The researchers practicing active learning methodology could develop a forum for continuous discussion, which helps them to remain updated with the ongoing developments in the strategies.

We believe that a proper and planned use of actives method not only creates better learning environment, but might even reduce the amount of time spent on teaching.

During the pedagogics 2 course, all groups were assigned to arrange a workshop on the role of the university, utilizing some activating method. Before the workshop we read a number of articles on the subject, wrote abstracts on these and got comments on the abstracts from the other participants. At first, this seemed like quite a challenge, but it turned out to be easier than anticipated.

We chose a very simple activating method (which we called “the line”), where we presented some statement and told the participants to stand somewhere on a scale (a line on the floor) ranging from agree to disagree. After everybody had found a point on the scale where they felt comfortable, they got to discuss their opinion with others next to them.

First, we presented some background on the topic and then presented a few statements relating to the topic with focus on Åbo Akademi. This way, we were able to recreate many of the arguments presented in the texts we read, but in a way so that everybody thought about the issues from their own perspective. After discussing in small groups, everyone also got to present their opinion.

Designing and moderating the workshop really showed that using activating methods needn’t be time-consuming, neither during preparation nor execution, while still getting the participants engaged. Formative assessment was used frequently throughout the course, for instance in form of comments on our abstracts. This feedback made it possible to improve our work throughout the course.

With this post we want to raise awareness on the importance of using activating methods and to maybe ease the fear related to the supposed complexity related to the implementation of activating methods in everyday teaching.

[1] http://www.abo.fi/fakultet/media/25126/bilaga1.pdf
[2] https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/how-much-do-scientists-lecture-and-why-poll-results-and-commentary/
[3] Omelicheva, Mariya Y., and Olga Avdeyeva (2008) Teaching with lecture or debate? Testing the effectiveness of traditional versus active learning methods of instruction. PS: Political Science & Politics, 41(3), 603-607.
[4] Prince, M (2004) Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 233-231.
[5] Roehl, A., Reddy, S. L., & Shannon, G. J. (2013). The flipped classroom: An opportunity to engage millennial students through active learning. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 105(2), 44.
[6] Niemi, H. (2002). Active learning—a cultural change needed in teacher education and schools. Teaching and teacher education, 18(7), 763-780.
[7] Drake, E., & Battaglia, D. (2014). Teaching and learning in active learning classrooms. FaCIT.
[8] Eison, J. (2010). Using active learning instructional strategies to create excitement and enhance learning. Jurnal Pendidikantentang Strategi Pembelajaran Aktif (Active Learning) Books, 2(1), 1-10.

One thought on “The point of university pedagogics!?

  1. I concur with you on the importance of using activating methods in teaching. Often the hardest part of the learning process is to use and implement new knowledge, not acquiring it. I feel that the teachers are most needed in guiding and tutoring students on the path to knowledge and especially using the knowledge, not just serving them facts. If we want our students to think critically and by them self’s, we need to give them the possibility to do so.

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