Posts tagged #Large Lecture

STUDIO SHORT: THE "GAME OF SOCIAL LIFE"

Image of the spinner from the board game "Life"

Title of the Course –  Introduction to Social Psychology

Instructor –  Sandra Parsons

Department – Psychology

Course Number - PSYC 202

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates; Psychology majors and minors

Course Description: The purpose of this course is to provide students with a broad introduction to the major themes that characterize today's social psychology. The course covers the following major topics: how we view ourselves and others; the cultural sources of our attitudes and the subtle forces that affect us; how attitudes and behavioral elements shape our relationships; and, how social psychology applies to practical contexts.


[This was an] eye-opening class with great demonstrations and experiments to help you learn the material and understand our every day encounters.
— PSYC202 Student

TEACHING CHALLENGE

How to encourage students to engage in difficult dialogues and to see the connection between course material and their own lives?

It is often difficult to get students engaged in critical, reflective, and meaningful discussions in large survey courses such as PSYC 202: Introduction to Social Psychology. Parsons’ course generally enrolls between sixty and eighty students each semester and while a large number of these students are psychology majors/minors or those interested in the discipline, many are students looking to fulfill their distribution credit in the social sciences. In addition the course must cover a large amount of content to provide an overview of the well-developed field of social psychology, limiting the available class time for in-depth discussions. Without the opportunity for reflection, dialogue, and application Parsons has found that students have a difficult time connecting the material of the course to their own lives. Yet she has found that when students can see connections between the course material and its relevance to their own lives, deeper learning occurs and students are able to actively engage in the learning process.


TEACHING STRATEGY

Parsons has successfully adapted a role-playing learning activity called "The Game of Social Life," developed to by the social psychologist Kosha D. Bramesfeld at Ryerson University, to her lesson on privilege and structural inequality. In this activity Parsons assigns students a 'profile' that details characteristics such as race, sexuality, disability, health, experience/education, etc. Students are then presented with strategy game whereby they will have to make decisions with the goal of maximizing their character's potential.  Students are faced with decisions, such as which neighborhoods to live in, which schools to attend, voting decisions (if they are able to vote), and how to spend their free time. The decisions students are asked to make and the constraints they are under due to their 'profile' characteristics encourage them to examine inequality across multiple domains, including access to social power, health care, housing, education, and occupational success throughout the lifespan.  The simulation also asks students to examine the impact of inequality on health and well-being. During and after the activity students are asked to discuss with each other how they made decisions, illustrating the differential constraints that students are under due to their different 'profiles.' This encourages students to examine how some individuals have more access to resources, power, and advantages than others due to characteristics they have little control over such as gender, race, wealth, and disability. The activity provides students with the opportunity to apply the concepts of privilege, oppression, and inequity in decision-making scenarios and to reflectively situate themselves in these unequal structures. Parsons says that the game allows participants to experience aspects of privilege and oppression in the context of a role-playing game as well as to externalize their experiences of privilege and oppression in a safe environment, prior to internalizing these issues and examining them in their own lives.

 


LESSONS LEARNED

Parsons offers two suggestions for using this type of role-playing activity in a large class such as PSYC202:

  • The activity requires at least two class sessions for students to have enough time to be assigned their profiles, play the 'game,' and have the opportunity for discussion. However, she has found the game to be an excellent use of class time in that the role-playing nature of the game enables students to apply concepts and deepen learning, as students must put themselves in “the shoes of others.”
  • The in-class execution of the game takes a lot of preparation and organization on the part of the instructor. She advises that it is best to introduce a role-playing game at this level of sophistication after the first few weeks of class or later when students have had the opportunity to get to know the instructor and their peers better.

I recommend all Rice students to take [this class]! You learn to understand the world in a different way, and a lot of the info is applicable to real life.
— PSYCH202 Student
Dr. Sandra Parsons

INSTRUCTOR PROFILE

Sandra Parsons is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rice University. She teaches Introduction to Social Psychology (PSYC 202), Research Methods (PSYC 340), and Motivation and Emotion (PSYC 353). She earned her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Miami University.  She is a department advisor and faculty advisor for Psi Chi, an honor society for psychology majors. Dr. Parsons is also a Faculty Associate at Will Rice College. Her research interests include social identities, gender, and decision-making in groups.

Posted on April 24, 2017 and filed under Social Sciences.

STUDIO SHORT: CREATING MEANINGFUL DISCUSSION IN A LARGE LECTURE CLASS

Rice University students sitting in the grass discussing papers.

Title of the Course –  Introductory Biology

Instructor –  Michael Gustin

Department – BioSciences

Course Number - BIOC 201

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates

Course Description: Develop critical insight into basic biological mechanisms of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and development of animals and plants through exploration of initial observations, definition of problems and questions, construction and testing of hypotheses, and analysis of the results of experiments.


Professor Gustin teaches biology in a way that knocks you out of your comfort zone.
— BIOC 201 student

TEACHING CHALLENGE

How can we create opportunities for learning through small group discussion and peer instruction in a large lecture class?

Gustin's BIOC 201 is a popular introductory course enrolling around 200 students each semester it is offered. The course is a requirement for BioSciences majors, a prerequisite for upper level courses in the BioSciences and other disciplines, and it also fulfills the University's distribution credit for science courses. Therefore, students enter the course with varying levels of preparation in the biological sciences and different motivations for mastering the material.  Gustin says that in order to facilitate more meaningful learning experiences he knew he had to get students talking to each other and working together during class. However due to the survey nature of the course, the lectures cover a large amount of material and are fast paced leaving little time for students to work together in groups during lecture. In addition, the large course enrollment creates logistical challenges for managing group work and discussion during lectures.


TEACHING STRATEGY

To create structured opportunities for small group work Gustin decided to make it an integrated part of the course design. At the beginning of the semester each student is assigned to a team of 10-12 students that they will work with over the semester in breakout discussion sections.  Eight class meetings over the semester (about 15% of classes) are dedicated to these breakout discussion sessions. Prior to each breakout session, Gustin assigns a few questions or provides a topic that one or two team members on each team must address. For example, for one session students are asked to create an analogy for one of the topics discussed in the previous lectures. These students prepare a response ahead of the discussion section, then give a presentation to their teammates and guide discussion during the breakout session.  An undergraduate teaching assistant is there (with a rubric) to observe and make sure all students are participating. At the end of the discussion session another student on the team writes up a summary of the discussion and identifies any unanswered questions. Before the next lecture Gustin scans these write-ups for the ‘unanswered questions' and these become potential topics for extra credit on the next exam. He says that this motivates all students in the class to read and try to answer these 'unanswered questions,' which are posted on the course webpage. In addition, when appropriate, he brings the work completed in these small groups back into the large group lecture. For example, the lecture following the analogy assignment he presents all of the analogies to the whole class and they vote on what they believe are the best two analogies. In this way, Gustin encourages students to see the small group work and peer instruction as an integrated part of their overall learning in the class, as opposed to 'supplemental' or 'additional' coursework.


I appreciated the discussion groups as it was a chance to discuss the material in a smaller forum and an opportunity to become more engaged with the subject and share knowledge with classmates.
— BIOC 201 student

LESSONS LEARNED

Gustin says that there have been a few challenges with implementing these small group breakout sessions that he has not yet found solutions for. To begin with, due to the large number of students enrolled in this course integrating small group work at this level requires a lot of administration on the part of the instructor. Using undergraduate teaching assistants helps with some of the administrative tasks, but Gustin says he continues to look for ways to streamline the administration of the group discussion sessions. Gustin has also found that student absences from the small group discussion sections are difficult to account for since the these class meetings are more heavily factored into students grades than lecture meetings. This is particularly challenging when it comes to student athletes who may miss classes when their sport is in season.


Dr. Mike Gustin

INSTRUCTOR PROFILE

Mike Gustin is a Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.  He has earned multiple teaching awards over his 25 years at Rice University. In 2016 he received the George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit, thereby officially being retired from the competition for the Rice University Brown Teaching Awards. Professor Gustin's research is in the area of molecular genetics and biochemistry of signal transduction.

Posted on August 8, 2016 and filed under Natural Sciences.

STUDIO SHORT: THE PEDAGOGICAL VALUE OF TEXTING IN CLASS

Hands texting on a phone.

Title of the Course – Electricity & Magnetism          

Instructor –  Jason Hafner

Department – Physics & Astronomy

Course Number - PHYS 102

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduate science and engineering majors

Course Description: This course serves as an introduction to electricity and magnetism. Students will learn about how matter becomes charged, and about the physical interactions between charges as described by Maxwell’s Equations. Applications to basic circuit elements in both DC and AC circuits will also be addressed.


TEACHING CHALLENGE

How can we create a class climate in which students feel comfortable to ask questions?

Hafner's PHYS 102 lecture course enrolls between 100-200 students each semester. The format of the class is fast-paced as students are introduced to the basic concepts of electricity and magnetism through lecture and demonstrations. This introductory physics course draws in a wide range of students with different levels of preparation and experience in physics. Most are freshman and this is among their first college courses. Hafner believes that these factors, along with the sheer number of students, creates a climate in which students are intimidated, nervous, and afraid to ask questions.

 

TEACHING STRATEGY

To address this challenge Hafner first tried using audience response systems during lecture, a strategy many of his colleagues use. However, he found that these tools disrupted the flow and rhythm of his short 50-minute lectures.  Eventually he discovered that simply writing his cell phone number on the board and letting students text him questions during class was the most efficient and effective way to encourage students to ask question.  With this strategy he found several benefits:

  1. It uses a technology that all students have readily available with them in class.
  2. It is (effectively) anonymous, encouraging questions that students would likely not ask in front of their peers.
  3. It provides occasional breaks to the monotony of the lecture.
  4. It makes the course feel more personal and engaging for students.

Dr. Hafner’s method of texting questions helps ease students’ fear of asking questions. A student does not feel intimidated to ask a question because the professor has no way of knowing which number corresponds to which student. Additionally, a student does not feel intimidated to ask a question with respect to the other students because the other students do not know who asked the question. In fact, there is no way of knowing whether each question is asked by a different student or all questions are asked by the same student, thus encouraging students who feel that they ask a lot of questions to continue doing so, and encouraging students who rarely ask a question to also do so. As a result, there are more questions being asked in class.
— PHYS 102 student

LESSONS LEARNED

For those questions that go unanswered during lecture (due to time constraints), Hafner sends the student a text message after class with an answer to the question. The problem with this is that only the one student gets the benefit of hearing the question and its answer. In the coming year, he will post the questions and answers that were not addressed during lecture to the class webpage to enable all students to see them.


INSTRUCTOR PROFILE:

Dr. Jason Hafner

Professor Hafner earned his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1998 under Richard Smalley for work on carbon nanotubes, and pursued postdoctoral studies at Harvard University with Charles Lieber. He returned to Rice in 2001 to join the faculty where his lab studies nanophotonics and interfacial biology. Hafner was named a Beckman Young Investigtor in 2002, and won the Norman Hackerman Award for Chemical Research from the Welch Foundation in 2011. He is currently a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and of Chemistry. Hafner is a Member of Scientia at Rice and has served as an Associate Editor for ACS Nano since 2010. He has taught freshman and sophomore physics for the past eight years, and is a member of Rice's Center for Teaching Excellence. He is on a quest to find a lecture demonstration that will get him fired.

To find out more about Professor Hafner's popular EdX class for AP Physics look here.

Posted on August 2, 2016 and filed under Natural Sciences.