New this year at the Center for Teaching and Learning: a program for Trinity faculty who want to undertake a big pedagogical experiment. The seven members of the inaugural cohort of CTL Fellows are redesigning courses, trying out whole new approaches to their classrooms and their students, applying new research in their disciplines and in the literature on teaching & learning. Among them, this distinguished group has won the Hughes Award three times, not to mention numerous awards and fellowships for their research. Through a colloquium that gathers once per month throughout the academic year, they share ideas, challenge each other’s assumptions, and support the bold re-thinking all of them are doing about themselves as teachers. By clicking on the title of each Fellow’s project, you can read their end-of-year report.
Kathleen Archer, Biology
Traditional course development typically focuses on what information the instructor will deliver to the students, in what is called a teacher-centered approach. Science education reformers are calling for science faculty to adopt student-centered pedagogy, where the emphasis is placed on what students learn. I propose to re-design my course for non-science majors (Biol. 107 Plants and People) using the student-centered method of backward design. In backward design, course development begins by first identifying what students completing the course should know and be able to do. Next, one develops the methods by which the acquisition of knowledge and skills will be measured. Assignments, projects, papers, and exams are all examples of what could be used to provide information on how successful students have been in achieving the desired learning outcomes. The course design is completed by creating the learning activities that will introduce students to the knowledge and skills they are to acquire. Included here would be lectures, readings, in-class problems, and discussion. By driving course development with what students should know and do, backward design places the emphasis on learning instead of on content delivery, with an end result that should be a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the course material for students.
Brett Barwick, Physics
The Trinity College physics department teaches introductory algebra based physics courses in a lecture setting combined with a separate laboratory component, which is typical for physics departments throughout the US. While this is an accepted approach, physics education research over the last two decades has developed other researched backed teaching techniques which may fit very well in the liberal arts environment of Trinity College while promoting greater understanding of physics concepts. One of these new teaching methods has been dubbed “workshop physics” and is based around student discovery in a laboratory setting. This method usually replaces the 1 hour lectures (3 days a week) and the traditional weekly lab with a 2 hour (3 days a week) lab base active learning environment where they use experimental equipment, visualization, peer assisted learning and mathematical modeling to “discover” physical principles. Over the next year I will investigate these methodologies and plan how to implement here at Trinity.
Carol Clark, Economics
A central component of advanced economics courses is the critical examination of evidence and argument as part of economic debate. This project will focus on developing activities, including writing exercises and peer review, that prepare students to render their own, informed judgments on issues that are open-ended or that focus on a highly contested area within economics. The goal is to better address difficulties often encountered in designing group work, especially in encouraging students to evaluate competing claims and offer an informed position based on appropriate evidence.
Jack Dougherty, Educational Studies
With support from the Center, I will author a series of essays for an open-access digital publication, titled “Web Writing: A Guide for Teaching and Learning.” This project builds on my experience in designing different types of web-based writing assignments in three of my Trinity courses as well as producing digital scholarship and leading faculty workshops at other institutions on this topic. Essay themes will include rethinking student learning objectives, choosing appropriate tools for collaboration and commentary, integrating textual argument and visual evidence, and balancing the need for public writing and student privacy. By posting my draft essays on a public site and inviting reader feedback, I hope to revise them in light of online commentary and real-time conversations with other fellows and my students, with the goal of seeking broader publication in the field of the digital humanities.
Luis Figueroa, History
I plan to adopt this fall two technologies for helping to develop a more responsible and active community of learners: a collaborative course blog that functions as an academic journal, and the use of Google Docs for researching, writing, reviewing and submitting papers and presentations. In terms of the course blog, students will function as “contributing editors,” posting almost all their course work on online. The “public readership” and “public accountability” elements of a blog have the potential of transforming how students relate to their course duties since cutting-edge technologies will be used to promote the blog more widely and engage its readers in dialogue. Further, in addition to addressing course material, students will also post reflections on their learning-process experiences in an attempt to address the deficits in metacognition skills that research has shown is very prevalent among Millennials. Meanwhile, the adoption of Google Docs addresses multiple needs and goals. By creating create separate documents for each student paper, sharing access with the student author, and giving me and the other students the ability to post feedback during the writing process, this technology opens up new possibilities for teaching and learning. For example, I will be able to check regularly student progress in writing papers by using timetables and benchmarks for their completion and for providing feedback before, and not just after, submission of the final version. Sharing documents “in the cloud” also makes it easier to engage in peer-review exercises and collaborative research and writing. At a broader level, my CTL Fellows project seeks to address a paradox: while Millennials are often labeled as “digital natives,” my experience suggests otherwise. Students need to learn to use technology not just as content consumers, but also as content creators. In this vision, they will experience learning as “scholars-in-the-making,” collaborating in an academic project with a broad public audience and a long-term horizon since the same blog will be used by each new iteration of the course.
Joseph Palladino, Engineering
“MATLAB Across the Engineering Curriculum”
MATLAB is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numerical computation. Using MATLAB, students can solve technical computing problems faster than with traditional programming languages, such as C, C++, and Fortran. It is the preeminent software tool in engineering, and is widely used in both academia and industry. Exposing students to these tools early and often in their curriculum should directly help them to solve real-world problems, especially those culminating in their senior capstone design project (thesis). The comprehensive programming environment of MATLAB makes it possible to integrate scientific computing techniques in existing engineering courses, rather than relying solely on a dedicated computer-programming course.
Two areas particularly important for engineering students are numerical solution of nonlinear differential equations and the graphical representation of data. MATLAB provides an integrated programming environment for numerical software development. It also includes a wide range of graphics tools that are much better suited to scientific data than commonly used spreadsheet software.
Irene Papoulis, Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric
Informal writing –defined as in-class or outside-class writing exercises meant to encourage students to generate ideas– has been an invaluable part of my teaching for many years. I plan to rethink and revamp the way I use it, both to augment class discussions and as a lead-up to student essays, focusing in particular on four arenas: 1. Writing to explore and cultivate ideas, 2. Writing to generate deeper readings of texts, 3. Writing about multiple texts in relation to each other, and 4. Metacognitive writing. My overall goal is to inspire intellectual curiosity in students at all levels. I believe that students become passionate about classroom work when they understand how it connects to their own deepest thinking and responses to the world and to texts. I am looking for more ways in which informal writing can first encourage students to delve into and articulate their own ideas, and then insist that they test and transform those ideas in the face of conflicting perceptions. I look forward to sharing my ideas with faculty interested in using informal writing with students in any discipline.