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    Building on Student Comments to Teach Academic Concepts

    Instead of using lectures to simply deliver information, instructors can also use them to create opportunities for students to construct new knowledge themselves. In this video, Paola Arlotta explains how she presents material to students so they first construct their own understanding of concepts, then builds on their ideas to develop more formal disciplinary knowledge and vocabulary.

    Fostering a culture of valuing different ways of thinking

    Students enter classrooms expecting to learn new material from the sources instructors select as well as from instructors themselves. An often underappreciated source of new learning, however, remains a student’s classmates. Fellow students’ fresh perspectives can foster new ways of thinking and yield constructive, unconsidered insights. In this video, Brett Flehinger describes why he refers to his class as a “collective brain,” a metaphor for the collaborative, participatory learning process he strives to create in his lecture classroom.

    Sequencing materials to build student energy and excitement

    Tapping into the energy in the classroom to make real-time decisions for keeping students engaged, curious, and challenged may prove more effective than blindly following a scripted lesson plan. In this video, Paola Arlotta describes how she uses advance planning and in-the-moment data from students to know when is appropriate to increase the level of difficulty or reveal surprises in the content.

    Planning ahead to facilitate the inclusion of student contributions

    One of the lecturer’s biggest fears remains ending class without having addressed enough of the material he/she planned to cover. To prevent this, Paola Arlotta identifies four or five key topics to address in a particular lecture before class. If discussion runs long on one of those topics, she makes quick decisions about how to reshuffle timing to ensure her objectives are met by the end of the lesson.

    Encouraging Students to Put Each Class in Context with the Broader Course

    Instead of viewing each class session as an independent, stand-alone component, some lecturers effectively weave together material across classes to create a coherent learning trajectory for students. As Brett Flehinger advances from topic to topic, he makes transparent for students his thinking about the specific curriculum choices. In this video, Brett describes how he uses his syllabus as an “atlas” to elucidate links between classes and concepts. He encourages his students to do the same.

    Warming Up the Class With Foundational Questions

    Just like athletes in team practices, students can benefit enormously from a brief warm-up period at the start of class. To invigorate and prepare his students before diving into analytical conversations, Brett Flehinger frequently kicks off lectures with a flurry of factual and brainstorming questions. Once he observes that students have co-constructed some common understanding, Flehinger ups the stakes and challenges students to dig deeper into the material.

    Breaking up lecture with frequent questions

    A lecturer who acts primarily as a “sage on the stage” for an entire class session will likely struggle to gauge or sustain student attention and energy. By incorporating frequent, purposeful questioning into lectures, instructors can keep students energized and deepen their understanding. Brett Flehinger uses factual, analytical, and overarching questions during his lectures to draw out student voices and check the class’s “temperature.”

    Capturing students’ contributions on the board

    While slides can be helpful for displaying class material, they also tend to be static and relatively passive. Conversely, co-constructing knowledge on the board with students can help make definitions and key concepts come alive. In this video, Paola Arlotta describes how recording students’ ideas on the board engages them in collaboratively “building the class material” and involves them more deeply in the learning process.

    Dedicating class time to repeated practice with key skills

    Most academic fields require close, textual analysis. Despite this, some instructors lecture entire class sessions without affording students focused periods for practicing and sharpening their analytical skills. Understanding how crucial it is that students leave his course with particular skills in their repertoire, Brett Flehinger devotes significant portions of class time to hands-on engagement with analysis or, what he calls, “the fundamental historian’s task,” seeking to strengthen students’ discipline-specific skills through guided practice. In this video, Flehinger hands out new...

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    Modeling discipline-specific thinking through application

    Challenging students to step into the shoes of experts within their fields and consider problems from specialized points of view can make material more relevant and help students develop crucial disciplinary instincts. The ultimate goal of the history instructor, for instance, is for his/her students to be not only well-versed in the content but also able to think like historians. In every one of Paola Arlotta’s class sessions, she presents multiple experiments for students to design or interpret so they can gain confidence and practice thinking like scientists. In this video, she...

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    Asserting political opinions in discussion

    An instructor’s personal or political opinions might be less relevant when it comes to some topics, but asserting your opinions on certain controversial issues may be crucial. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal and Tim McCarthy reflect on when and why they choose to assert certain political positions or strongly held beliefs in a discussion, particularly when “a line is crossed” or when “stakes are high.”

    Designing, scaffolding, and assessing student discussion leadership

    Inviting students to plan for and facilitate discussions can have the effect of, as Tim McCarthy puts it, “provoking robust debate.” Though Tim McCarthy plays an integral role in class discussions, students themselves are responsible for leading the majority of classes, all of which are discussion-based. McCarthy refers to this exercise as a “provocation.” Leading such “provocations” affords student facilitators powerful, pedagogical perspectives while challenging them to participate more broadly in classroom discourse. In this video, McCarthy walks viewers through the intentional...

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    Inviting students to take a stand and disagree

    Well-crafted discussion questions can carve out spaces for disagreement. They can even encourage it. But cultivating the type of respectful disagreement that helps students grow academically and personally is tricky, especially when students feel strongly about particular issues. In this video, Tim McCarthy models the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that help his students learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

    Making adjustments on the fly to keep lectures “organic”

    A classic challenge for the lecturers is how to fit all relevant material into the timeframe of a short class period, not to mention a short semester. When a student makes an insightful point that would take the class in a new direction, instructors must decide: Do I go on a worthwhile tangent to address the student’s point, or do I proceed as I had planned? In this video, Brett Flehinger shares why he allows student contributions to shape the path a class takes and how he makes strategic adjustments on the fly.

    Calling on students in equitable ways

    Patterns of classroom participation can take shape very early in a semester and become further cemented with each class session. Students who do not perceive professors’ strategies of soliciting participation as fair or purposeful may be less apt to contribute. Establishing inclusive, equitable norms of participation the very first class sessions is essential. In this video, Tim McCarthy demonstrates that even in a seminar setting he calls on students to monitor equitable participation.

    Knowing when to intervene in the student-centered discussion

    Timothy Patrick McCarthy admits that intervening and interjecting in discussions can be an “inelegant art.” If the goal is to have a student-led discussion, then the instructor should mostly let the conversation play out among students. But since the instructor has the end in mind, there are times when he/she should strategically interject to keep the discussion on track. In this video, McCarthy describes the typical pace of his student-led seminar and why he tends to interject more near the end of class.

    Asking questions that push students to discover information for themselves

    Some instructors design lectures that simply telegraph answers to students. While there are certainly cases where it makes sense to deliver answers this way, a wholesale dependence on this approach will likely mute students’ drive to discover answers for themselves, resulting in a class of students who depend on you rather than on themselves to solve problems. Infusing lectures with questions that spark students toward self-discovery, however, can help to foster more productive, interactive learning spaces. Paola Arlotta uses leading and “prodding” questions to help students...

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    Using Project-Based Learning to Engage Students

    In contrast to traditional lecture-based courses, using projects in the classroom pushes students to actively apply what they have learned. In AP50: Physics as a Foundation for Science and Engineering, instructors put aside textbooks and lectures, challenging students instead to construct a machine that meets a real world challenge. Once students are engaged, instructors then begin to make textbook connections, pointing out how fundamental class concepts can enhance the quality of students’ project. This is what Eric Mazur calls the “Trojan Horse” of learning.

    Using Team-Based Learning to Prepare Students for the Real World

    As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the future of work will become increasingly collaborative. As he explains in this video, this is what underpins Eric Mazur’s approach to team-based learning: a belief that instructors need to help students learn how to work together because this is how they will succeed once they leave our classrooms. 

    Designing Authentic Projects

    Effective projects are carefully designed in order to deepen and broaden students’ understanding of course concepts by applying them to real-world challenges. The point is to demonstrate to students how what they’re learning in the course -- information that may see fairly dry in the abstract -- becomes  extremely important when applied to everyday problems. In this video, Eric Mazur and his teaching team underscore the value of using projects to give learning a deeper meaning. They emphasize how learning is much more memorable when students get a chance to be hands-on and enact...

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