eLearning Technology Blog

Transforming the Teaching & Learning Environment

by Susan 17. March 2014 15:23


I sit in a lot of webinars and read numerous newsletters and blogs to garner fresh ideas for the faculty I work with at the Global Campus.

During the past two weeks, I was immersed in a virtual conference sponsored by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), with the theme “transforming the teaching and learning environment.” I participated in 3-5 presentations each day on a variety of topics focused around this goal.

As you might guess, there was a lot of conversation about the most effective ways to engage students, how to encourage active learning, incorporate collaborative activities, flipping classrooms, the benefits of MOOCs, and several other “innovative” teaching practices.

As I watched these many presentations, I was struck by the fact that I didn’t hear anything new; most of the information was already familiar.

It was validating to realize that we are doing a whole lot right here at the Global Campus. But it also made me think about what was missing. Why are we, as an organization, always looking for the answer to “what makes online learning most effective?” What unique or innovative ideas did our associate director hope we’d unearth when she signed us up for this virtual conference? Is there a magic solution, just waiting to be discovered?

A second conclusion I drew from these webinars is that the most powerful learning comes from the student’s self-direction. Now that’s not to say that we don’t need teachers, because we certainly do! But evidence (both empirical and anecdotal) shows that the deepest and longest-lasting learning doesn’t arise from listening to knowledge experts share what they know, but is instead derived from guiding student-driven investigation, exploration, motivation, and doing.

At first, these two points seemed unrelated, but the more I thought about what makes learning effective (online or otherwise), the stronger I grasped the significance of student-centered learning and what we already know to be effective. In a flash, I saw this as the elusive “magic solution.”

Of course, you and I both know that there is no such thing! But I also recognized that if all these educators, who were committed to transforming the teaching and learning environment, kept asserting that students learn best from taking action rather than taking notes, I knew this was worth paying attention to. I realized that the magic was not in the subject matter content but in the role of the teacher.

With technology, mobile devices, the internet, and social media, our students have immediate and instantaneous access to virtually any material at anytime from anywhere. The teacher is no longer required to be the primary resource for imparting content.  A more effective role for the teacher is to provide the context for the learning, guiding students to appreciate and grasp real-world applications to solve problems, develop new ideas, and find solutions. Teachers are valuable, not because of what they know, but because they know how to apply that knowledge in practical ways.

If you’d like to peruse the topics presented in the PASSHE virtual conference, you can access the archives of the recorded sessions with this link:  http://www.passhe.edu/inside/asa/DEConf/Pages/2014-Sessions-by-Date.aspx

For more on transforming education, here’s a playlist of six provocative video segments from TED talks.


Susan Fein


WSU faculty find new ways of engaging students

by WSU Online 6. March 2014 14:35

Washington State University faculty members turned the tables on colleagues last week, having them form small groups, do an assignment, take a quiz–even giving them a gentle chiding for avoiding the front-row seats.

Last Tuesday’s workshop on new ways to engage students brought about 30 faculty members together in Pullman, with more participating online, to hear three faculty presenters describe their approaches. The event was organized by WSU Global Campus, and co-sponsored by the Provost’s Office and WSU Teaching Academy, which are teaming up to improve instruction and student success.

First up was Animal Sciences Emeritus Professor John McNamara.

“For those of you who may be thinking there’s a push to use technology for technology’s sake,
 that’s not what this is about,” said McNamara.  “This is about engaging our modern learners who want to learn, who think very fast, and are used to getting information.”

One simple idea, he said, is to reach students where they live: On their electronic devices.

McNamara suggested the Socrative program, which lets students respond to quizzes on their smartphones and laptops.  “It’s a really easy handy way to get them involved,” he said, “and for you to make sure that they are involved.”

McNamara regularly divides students into problem-solving teams. That makes many of them uncomfortable, he said. His response is blunt and pragmatic: “You’re going to have to do things this way the rest of your life.”

The power of POGIL
Faculty next got a crash course in POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), in which faculty divide students into groups of four, and assign each member a role: manager, speaker, recorder, or observer.

Entomology Professor Laura Lavine told faculty members to form four-member groups–“no illegal groups,” she told a scofflaw group of five—and gave each group eight minutes to solve an economics problem involving credit-default swaps. As WSU professors with profound expertise in unrelated fields tried to puzzle out answers, they experienced first-hand the power of collaboration–and the peer pressure–that Lavine uses to motivate her students.

Group discussions, Lavine said, help lodge information in students’ long-term memories and the designated roles encourage them to speak out. As a side benefit, she said, the discussions develop the teamwork skills they’ll need in their careers.

According to a recent study, she said, one in five college students acts unprofessionally the first year of a job.
“Where are you going to practice learning your professional skills?” she asks her students. They’re surprised to hear they’ll be learning them in her entomology course: “What?” they ask. “What does that have to do with bugs?”

Team-based learning
Pharmacy Professor Jennifer Robinson  had faculty members move again, this time into teams of five to seven¬— “I’ll give you two minutes to get this done,” she said—and gave them a pharmacy problem, which drew laughs and a few groans.

Robinson first looked into team-based learning when she grew frustrated with students who were distracted or on the verge of sleep. She went to her dean. “I feel like I’m wasting my breath,” she told him. He handed her what looked like a large scratch-off lottery ticket. He wasn’t suggesting she gamble on early retirement. The scratch sheet was an Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique or IF-AT.

Students are given sheets with multiple scratch-off rows that correlate with an exam question. They discuss questions as a team, then scratch off the box they think covers the answer. If they’re right, they find a star. If they’re wrong, they can try again, but for fewer points.  If they think the question is unfair, they can file a written appeal during class.

To write a good appeal they have to review the readings, Robinson said. “They think they’re fighting for points,” she said. “I think they’re expanding their learning.”

At the end of the quiz, she shares the teams’ scores with the entire class. “Pharmacy students can be competitive,” she said. “They want to make sure they are keeping up with their peers academically, and team-based learning creates an environment where students are motivated to truly learn the material.”

After the workshop, Molecular Biosciences Professor Bill Davis said he’ll explore new techniques over the summer.

“My students are not performing at the level that I’d like,” he  said. “I’m interested in these teaching techniques, changing my classroom, and seeing what resources are available on campus. It’s time for a change.”


Watch the workshop. Go to YouTube to see an edited video.

WSU tutorials. WSU Global Campus offers tutorials on a variety of new tools and approaches. Please go to elearning.wsu.edu

Socrative.  Go to www.Socrative.com, a free student response system that uses smartphones and laptops. (McNamara: “I learned this in about five minutes and I’m a slow learner.”)

POGIL workshops. Laura Lavine is the Northwest region POGIL facilitator and will offer POGIL workshops to interested WSU faculty.The POGIL website is also a valuable resource, and there’s  a three-day POGIL workshop beginning  June 30 at the University of Puget Sound.

IF-AT sheets. You can read more and get samples at http://www.epsteineducation.com

Team-based learning. The Team-based Learning Collaborative offers resources, as well as video interviews with faculty and students.


By Richard H. Miller/Global Campus

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