April 29, 2013

Why Lecture Isn't Sufficient

It takes effort to learn. A common adage is that the best way to learn something is to teach it. So, it shouldn't be surprising that simply listening to someone lecture isn't the best way to learn. This is nothing new, but I've been reading more and more that show that alternative "active learning" approaches are demonstrably better. And this works in a wide variety of settings at surprisingly large scale.  I've collected here some particularly interesting references (in reverse chronological order):

Beth Simon, Julian Parris, and Jaime Spacco. 2013. How we teach impacts student learning: peer instruction vs. lecture in CS0. In Proceeding of the 44th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (SIGCSE '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 41-46. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2445196.2445215
=> Replaced lecture with peer instruction (PI) in a non-majors CS0 course (i.e., the one before a traditional freshman majors class) resulted in approximately a half letter grade improvement (N=90). The PI class was assigned reading before class that was assessed with a short quiz at the beginning of each class. Much of the lecture was replaced with a sequence of: 1) individual clicker responses; 2) discussion in assigned groups; and 3) individual clicker responses again; 4) whole-class discussion.

Leo Porter, Cynthia Bailey Lee, Beth Simon, and Daniel Zingaro. 2011. Peer instruction: do students really learn from peer discussion in computing? In Proceedings of the seventh international workshop on Computing education research (ICER '11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 45-52.  http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2016911.2016923
=> Replaced lecture with peer instruction in two upper-division majors courses (Intro to Computer Architecture, N=51; and Intro to Theory of Computation, N=45). PI implemented similarly as first paper (above). Findings that 85-89% of "potential learners" benefit from peer discussion. 90% of students broadly agree that "I recommend that other instructors use our approach ... in their courses."

Louis Deslauriers, Ellen Schelew, and Carl Wieman. 2011 Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class. In Science 13 May 2011, 332 (6031), pp. 862-864. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6031/862.short
=> In two Quantum Mechanics physics courses (N=~270 each), flipping one week of the course (replacing lecture with a variety of active learning activities) resulted in increased student attendance, higher engagement, and improvement in learning from average test scores of 41 to 74. The active learning classes included "pre-class reading assignments, pre-class reading quizzes, in-class clicker questions with student-student discussion, small-group active learning tasks, and targeted in-class instructor feedback. ... The small-group tasks were questions that required a written response. Students worked in the same groups but submitted individual answers at the end of each class for participation credit."

Jason A. Day and James D. Foley. 2006 Evaluating a Web Lecture Intervention in a Human-Computer Interaction Course. In IEEE Transactions on Education, Vol. 49, No. 4, 420-431. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=4012664
=> Flipping an HCI course resulted in grades that were just about a full letter grade higher in comparison to a control condition. The control reduced the amount of lecture time by the estimated time students watched material outside of class. The lectures were replaced with web-based video lectures including PowerPoint slides and video of the instructor - much like today's MOOCs. Students had short quizzes on the web lectures before class. These "Lecture Homework Assignments" (LHWs)  were "synthesis-type questions that require students to discern and elaborate on concepts covered in the lecture" - "not simply verification or summary-type questions". After the LHWs, class time included "project-related group presentations, small breakout group discussions and presentations, redesign sessions, design critiques, design reviews with HCI experts, role-playing activities, discussions with local HCI practitioners, and others."

April 17, 2013

Special Advisor to the Provost on Technology and Educational Transformation

I'm excited to announce the new role I've just taken on at UMD.  Here is the letter I just sent to our faculty describing it.  I've already received about 2 dozen thoughtful replies, and am really looking forward to meeting the people innovating on campus!

Dear Colleagues,

It shouldn't be a surprise that our campus is looking closely at the use of technology in education, and our faculty are actively experimenting with different approaches. Recently, there has been a confluence of pedagogical interest and technological advancement, which has made the application of technology to education a strategic interest at UMD and at universities around the world. There are MOOCs (such as Coursera, Udacity and EdX), online classes, and any number of hybrid approaches. "Blended" educational environments combine face-to-face and electronic classrooms, and "flipping" the classroom (lectures online and face-to-face classes for more active, engaged learning) are just some of the strategies that instructors are pursuing.

The opportunities (and risks) here are significant enough that the Provost has asked me to help her develop a strategy to best infuse technology into education throughout campus. Thus, starting immediately, I will be taking on the role of Special Advisor to the Provost on Technology and Educational Transformation, through August 2014. I hope to consider a wide range of activities while keeping the focus on our core mission of improving the quality of the education we offer to our students on campus. But it goes further than that. The opportunities for innovation, study, and publishable research in this space are tremendous. And the Provost has made it clear that pursuing research-based understanding of these issues is crucial.

As a computer scientist working in the area of Human-Computer Interaction, I have been involved in developing and applying technology to support education. From the International Children's Digital Library to SearchParty, I have endeavored to create new ways that technology can be used to motivate students and increase their power to learn.

As the campus considers these issues more broadly, I welcome your perspective. If you have exciting new ideas, or concerns about technology in education, let me know. As I said, the opportunities are tremendous - but it is up to us to invent the future.

Looking forward to working with you,

  - Ben