Dr. Jose Bowen
Dr. Jose Bowen, in his dynamic keynote presentation, argued that residential education (going to school on an actual campus) is under threat from numerous forces ranging from private online educational institutions, state budget cuts, and the cost conscious consumer. He argued that if residential higher education institutions want to justify their higher costs, they need to ensure that the education students receive in its brick and mortar facilities is worth their money.
Students still seem to prefer coming to a campus for the rich experiences and to take classes from professors in person, but that does not mean that they will continue to do so if the residential institutions don’t deliver a high quality product. According to Dr. Bowen, the true benefit residential campuses offer is the person-to-person interactions between faculty members, the experts in their disciplines, and the students. To keep these interactions of the highest possible value, every minute in class needs to be carefully planned and fully exploited through teaching strategies that are difficult if not impossible to deliver online.
To make every minute valuable, Dr. Bowen suggested that one-way lectures using PowerPoint presentations to disseminate information should be eliminated as much as possible, especially when that information is likely freely available on the internet (for a quick sample of what is available for free, take a look at the online Kahn Academy; http://www.khanacademy.org/). He argued that podcasts such as those at Kahn Academy have great benefits over using classroom lectures to distributed information and explain concepts. Students can stop and repeat parts any time if they missed something and archive the podcast for later viewing whenever necessary! He suggested we should leverage that capability.
An appropriate podcast or other internet-based resource can be posted so students can examine it prior to class. They may then be asked to complete a task based on what they learned from the online resource such as a brief pre-class assessment quiz on the content of the podcast, solving a problem related to the concepts, etc. If the assignment is due one hour before class, the teacher can use if for “just in time teaching.” The results of the assignment can be used to provide feedback in class and correct misunderstandings, or to decide whether students need more practice exercises in class.
Of course one could chose to create custom podcasts, but Dr. Bowen recommended spending some time examining internet material before going through the effort of creating custom podcasts. Even if existing material is not 100% perfect, students may still be able to learn what they need from it. Dr. Bowen suggested that if acceptable presentations or information can’t be found on the internet, and faculty members believe their explanation of the material is critical to help students learn better, creating a lecture podcast would be better than lecturing in class. Class time can then be used for more complex problems, deeper discussions, and debates over the content from the podcasts. Information is cheap, easy to come by, and merely a vehicle to help students achieve higher order thinking skills such as the capability to apply, analyze, create, and evaluate (see Bloom’s taxonomy). These are the type of activities they should conduct during the class sessions, while necessary background information is obtained outside the session.
Students should behave similarly in class as researchers behave in the lab. Researchers use information as a resource to develop new hypotheses that will be tested. That capability, to use information effectively to develop and test hypotheses, however simple, is what all students should learn in class. The capability to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate does not develop unless students are asked to actively engage with the material, think about it, manipulate it, elaborate on it, distinguish it from other information, discuss it with others and transfer it to new situations and problems. In other words, they do something substantive with the information.
To make this possible, students need to read and study required materials in advance of the class session and be prepared to engage in demanding problem solving exercises, discussions, debates, team work, reviews, etc, that demand they put their best thinking forward. Careful, integrated course design and progressive disclosure of complexity through scaffolding of exercises will help even novice students learn how to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information in any discipline. Faculty members with their expertise can provide students value beyond online courses by superimposing their insights, wisdom, intelligence, and problem solving skills on live interaction and training in the classroom.
The direct impact of faculty members’ expertise lies in the real-time formulation of meaningful questions and explanations, engaging discussions, and the modification of problems sets that help students explore new concepts and gain understanding quicker. Consequently, designing purposeful practice opportunities and appropriate challenges and exercises that provide students with authentic exploratory experiences in the discipline during class sessions is the cornerstone of residential educational value. Fink’s (2003) integrated course design strategy provides an excellent model to develop courses that are clear, coherent and efficiently focused on optimal learning; following his model ensures that there are no disconnects between learning goals, assessments, and learning activities that could be disruptive to the learning process and thus unproductive.
A challenging, well-integrated course creates practice time in the classroom focused on achieving performance goals and high quality outcomes. The class sessions are structured like practice sessions for any activity, whether it is football, chess, learning to play the piano, or painting. Students come to a “training session” and should leave class exhausted, because they worked so hard. Developing mental fitness and strength requires well designed learning experiences, extensive practice and repetition, feedback, guidance, collaboration with peers, discussions with faculty members, encouragement and reward. Class sessions need to provide students with significant intellectual challenges and carefully designed learning activities that take their knowledge and skill level to new heights. That growth is exciting to watch and makes teaching and learning rewarding.
To help optimize time spend in class and achieve excellence in teaching, Ambrose, et al (2011) published a book entitled “How learning Works: 7 Research-based principles for smart teaching.” In each of 7 chapters the authors present challenging faculty-student interactions related to teaching and learning that are common occurrences. In each chapter they delve into the research literature related to each issue, and present suggestions on how teachers might prevent or address these problems.
While I strayed a bit from Dr. Bowen’s focus, my thanks to him for providing a new perspective, some concrete examples, and further food for thought about teaching and learning.
Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning