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STEM Teaching Methods That Work webinar notes March 22, 2013

Posted by aquillam in education, teaching.
Tags: , , ,

These are my notes from An Inside Higher Ed Webinar held on March 19, originally scheduled for March 13.

They refer to a handout and slide deck from the webinar, which are copyrighted by the IDEA Center. The presenter was Steve Benton of the IDEA Center.

There were a couple big questions they were asking. Are outdated classroom techniques driving students away from STEM fields? What are the leaning outcomes teachers want and what do they actually emphasize? Which teaching methods work to achieve those outcomes? How do students feel about STEM classes?  To find the answers, they surveyed thousands of teachers and students in both STEM and non-STEM courses.

They identified 12 learning objectives teachers wanted to achieve. These objectives can be grouped into six categories (this was one side of the handout.)

In general, STEM and non-STEM instructors alike tended to emphasize items in the categories of Basic Cognitive Background and Application of Learning categories: essentially leaning the facts, vocabulary, principles, equations, etc. and how to apply them. STEM instructors also emphasized the ability to analyze and critically evaluate ideas, arguments and points of view (in the Intellectual Development category) was important. However, STEM instructors rated objectives like developing creativity, personal expression, and personal values much lower than non-STEM instructors.

There were some differences in emphasis within STEM classes between different types and levels of students.  For example in the Application of Learning category, less than half the STEM instructors ranked acquiring specific skills and competencies as very important for non-major undergrad classes, but more than 70% rank it as very important for upper level undergrads and grads. In the Intellectual Development category, instructors emphasized gaining an appreciation for the topic for the gen. ed. students, but for grad students they emphasized the need to be able to analyze and evaluate ideas.

In general, what students reported learning in STEM classes matched what instructors emphasized. However, students appeared to report slightly less progress on the objectives in the STEM classes than non-STEM classes (slide 11). The amount of learning students report tracks with their level however, with grad students reporting the most progress and lower level gen. ed. students reporting the least.

The team also identified 20 teaching methods that help students progress toward the learning outcomes, which they grouped into five categories.

When they asked students about what teaching methods were occurring in the classroom, the students reported that these techniques occurred less often in STEM classes than non-STEM classes. (Now that I’m looking this over again and not worrying about getting notes, I have to wonder if we aren’t employing any of those 20 techniques most of the time, what ARE we doing in the classroom??)

The student responses were used to identify the four teaching approaches most effective at helping students achieve the objectives in the Basic Cognitive Background category (learning the fact, equations, etc):

  1.      Demonstrate importance of subject matter;
  2.      Stimulate intellectual effort;
  3.      Make it clear how each topic fits into course; and
  4.      Explain course material clearly and concisely.

POD-IDEA notes “…succinct papers…to address specific ways to employ different teaching methods…” They are a resource to help instructors see why a technique should work and how to implement many of the different techniques. Find them at http://www.theideacenter.org/research-and-papers/pod-idea-center-notes-instruction

Having looked at what we’re doing, it’s time to look at what the students are doing. In particular, how could their motivation and work habits affect their outcomes?

In general, students are slightly more motivated to take non-STEM classes and non-STEM instructors, but the gap is not very big.

Perhaps more interesting were the student resposes to how hard they worked and how hard the classes were. In general, students said they expended the same effort as the other students in their classes. They also said they expended the same amount of effort in the STEM classes as the non-STEM classes, even though they reported that the STEM classes were significantly harder! Students reported that there was less reading, but more assignments of other types of work in STEM classes. Students rated the STEM classes and instructors well, though not as well as non-STEM.

There was a short discussion after the presentation, before we lost audio.

On the topic of the influence of gender an teaching techniques,this group did not track gender, but another group found that the teaching techniques were different, with men being more likely to lecture and give individal assignments, and women more likely to use team and collaborative techniques.

They found that the most important things for progress on cognitve objectives were the things that got students involved and structuring classroom experiences (the last two categories under Teaching Approaches)

The presenter said that they should look at student rating of effort and self reporting of progress to see if percieved greater difficulty but equal effort leads to lower progress, but they have not done that study yet.

Other studies have shown that sometimes more effort leads to lower progress. However, that may be hiding unpreparedness, so students that aren’t prepared have to expend more effort just to catch up, and don’t get the chance to make as much progress.

There is a low to moderate correlation between grades and ratings of instructor, but you generally get a higher teacher rating for instructors with higher standards and higher expectations (ie easy teachers get low ratings, though but fair teachers get high ratings.)

For the two most important learning objectives, acquiring facts and learning techniques, the higher the percieved difficulty, the more progress students report (ie students report less progress in an easy class.) BUT, it’s unclear if students WILL make more gains if we make the class harder, because they don’t seem to work harder. So how do we get them to put forth the extra effort? (he started to discuss utilizing things we’ve learned from behavioral psychology, but thats when the audio went bad!)





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