Monday, February 22, 2016

Vader's Revelation, New IBL Instructors, Formative Asssessment (and Some Humor)

In the episode V of Star Wars, Darth Vader makes the big revelation.  (Spoiler Alert!)

"I am your father."

How does this relate to IBL teaching?  Before I started teaching via IBL, I primarily lectured.  I thought I was getting through to students, but didn't really know until exam time.   When I started teaching via IBL, then harsh reality slammed open the door.  I realized what students didn't know, their misconceptions, how much logic was missing...  It was quite the revelation.

It's in this stage, where I see a possible turning point.  How we think about student learning affects our teaching decisions.  The pathway I hope instructors take is to look at the situation, evaluate the learning issues, and then design tasks, assignments and classes to address the misconceptions.  This is one of the values of informal assessment, and you get tons of it in an IBL class.  You get info about where students are at, and then can take action to help students learn.

Another path I see taken is what is called the deficit model.  The way this sounds is, "My students can't do this.  They don't do that.  They can't..."   And it ends there.  It's akin to the fixed mindset in teaching, where teachers view students' abilities as fixed, instead of malleable.  In this path, it's the students' fault for not knowing, and the courses move on unimpeded.

Now I realize that this is an oversimplification, and students can fail or succeed for a variety of reasons.  I want to get across a pragmatic point.  When you use active-learning, you will get more info on how students think.  This may be a surprise.  An unwelcome surprise.  The misconceptions have always been there, though, and the difference is that now you know what they are and can do something about it.

Instructors could (should) view these as opportunities, and do as much as they can within the limitations of their situation.  The pragmatic viewpoint (and decidedly non-ideological viewpoint) is to help out as much as time allows.  If an instructor has control over the syllabus and the course content (e.g. upper division courses), then there are more opportunities to deal with identified learning issues.  If an instructor is teaching section 16 out of 30 of calculus, then there may be fewer chances.  But there exists ways to carve out a bit of time to deal with the most pressing issues (such as making handouts, screen casting, and using small group work).

Feel the formative assessment, and inform your teaching it will!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Evidence for IBL (via Bressoud)

The short version of this post is "Check out David Bressoud's writing from the last year."

I am finally catching up on some reading blogs...  David Bressoud in the October edition of Launchings has a useful and compelling overview of research evidence supporting IBL.  I thought about writing my own version of this kind of post with the updated results from recent articles, but David Bressoud states things well, and send you to his blog.

Evidence for IBL has been increasing over time. One of the ways I like to phrase this is "all the vectors are pointing in the same direction."   The nature of education research is that there will not be some gigantic airtight proof that method A is better than method B.  It's the aggregate data that points us towards what is most likely to be true. Over time the strength of the signal has increased.  What has been compelling is the aggregate evidence from across the levels of education and across disciplines.  

On that note, I'd like to continue to encourage people to consider the "big tent" IBL framework.   Engaging students and giving them opportunities to think, share, and do mathematics like mathematicians have value.   There are many forms of IBL, including those that incorporate lectures. It's not a binary (on/off) choice. Hence, there are many entry points to active-learning pedagogies. Think Pair Share is an obvious place to start, and does not require wholesale changes in teaching practices.  Find something. Find your IBL comfort zone!

Link:  David Bressoud's Blog Post on Evidence for IBL