Best Practices: Active Learning for Non-Experts
These two instructors found creative ways to avoid the temptation to lecture on topics they were still learning.
Derek Bruff (Mathematics, Vanderbilt University)
For Derek, the Cryptography course was one of the best teaching experiences he’s had, partly because he could engage students in deeper critical thinking. When he teaches lower-level math courses, most questions have a single correct answer. But this course is “chock full of big questions” where students could debate possibilities. He could make the statement “Cryptography was the decisive factor in the Allied victory in World War Two,” and then ask students to vote on how strongly they agreed or disagreed, defending their positions through evidence and argument. Surprisingly, most students agreed with that statement!
Junlei Li (Applied Developmental Psychology, University of Pittsburgh)
Most of Junlei’s students are working full time, and all are K-6 intern teachers themselves. When they walk into his evening class, their minds are preoccupied with the real successes and frustrations that happened at school that day, and often still buzzing with emotions. He invites them to listen carefully to each other’s stories and then collectively connect these real examples to their evolving reflections of teaching. This approach vividly illustrates the theory in practice, it helps him relate to his students, and it reduces the pressure to generate tons of examples for material he doesn’t know well.