UP NEXT: Teaching Through Critique: An Extra-Disciplinary Approach
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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How Soon They Forget
Father Guido Sarducci - the character played by comedian Don Novello on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s - got some of his biggest laughs with a plan for a Five Minute University. Five years after they leave college, Sarducci noted, most graduates can only remember about five minutes' worth of all the facts they crammed into their crania to pass exams, so why not cut to the chase? [RR - see the hilarious clip at: [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4]. This riff on higher education still makes Steven Yalisove chuckle, but he knows it contains a measure of truth. A professor of materials science engineering at the University of Michigan, Yalisove, 59, is out to change classroom teaching. He has designed a regimen to help students learn, comprehend, and retain functional knowledge, instead of memorizing quickly forgotten facts. He has mostly eliminated lectures, relying on peer instruction and allowing students to learn from failures, and has all but ditched traditional exams. "Exams are a terrible way to see if someone has learned anything," he sniffs.
Yalisove's eagerness to find effective approaches dates at least to 1996, when he learned about Harvard physicist Eric Mazur's pioneering use of electronic clickers and Q-and-A's to gauge how well students understood concepts they were taught. Mazur is a champion of peer instruction, which holds that students who have only just grasped a concept are best able to teach it to their fellow students. Yalisove adopted clickers but stopped using them after just one year. "They got in the way of my lectures" - or so he thought. In fact, "it was actually my lectures that were getting in the way of the clickers."
That epiphany came in 2012. Yalisove began an experiment in Introduction to Materials and Manufacturing. On Mondays and Fridays, his students got a traditional lecture. But on Wednesdays, he exchanged his lectern for active learning and peer teaching. He pegged some exam questions to material covered only on Wednesdays. And his students scored 10 to 19 points higher on those questions. Yalisove and Mazur - who both research the effects of ultrafast lasers on materials - met at a conference later that year, and Yalisove grabbed the chance to investigate Mazur's latest teaching techniques. He was sold. Back at Michigan, Yalisove redesigned his intro course using methods largely based on Mazur's.
Yalisove's approach - which he debuted in fall 2013 - basically flips the flipped-classroom teaching concept. In flipped classrooms, students watch video lectures beforehand and spend class time working on homework. Yalisove nixed that formula. It's extremely hard to learn from video, he says, if it's the first introduction to material. Instead, he assigns students to read a section in their text using MIT-designed software that allows them to highlight and make comments that both their instructor and fellow students can read. Yalisove grades students on the quality and timeliness of their comments, indications that they have thoroughly read the text.
In class, Yalisove employs clicker-based quizzes to find out how much students actually learned from the text. Sometimes, if it's clear they haven't grasped a concept despite valiant efforts, and they're frustrated, "then a short lecture can be very useful." But he keeps it to about 10 minutes. He also assigns difficult homework guaranteed to stump his students. When they return to class, he has them work in teams using whiteboards to try to solve the homework problems. Three instructional aides - undergrads who took the course the previous year and are essentially the students' peers - advise the teams. After each assignment, students write a "reflection" on their experience, and they're graded on their effort, not their results.
The only exams he uses are "readiness assurance assessments," very tough, clicker-based tests of 15 to 20 questions. After answering the questions individually, students retake the same exam, but this time in teams using open books and whiteboards. Their exam grades are the average of their individual and team scores. Additionally, the students work on three group projects that are also graded. "Students find this grading system immensely fair," Yalisove says. His teaching methods won him a 2014 Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize. More important, they may instill knowledge that students won't quickly forget.