Lydia Kay ’13
On Thursday, April 12, the final Talking Teaching discussion of the spring semester was held in Terrace Rooms B/C. The event was sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and was entitled, “SoTL at Trinity.” Co-director of the CTL Professor Gary Reger began the discussion by introducing Associate Professor of Biology Kathleen Archer and Assistant Professor of Engineering Lin Cheng , the two leading panelists for the session. Archer and Cheng were recipients of a teaching grant given to them by the CTL and have been conducting research on effective teaching methods over the past two years. There were 20 or so guests in attendance at the event who gathered to hear the results of their research. They facilitated the discussion by explaining what their academic projects entailed and what they learned from the process. Both professors’ research and experimentation focused on investigating the benefits of group work versus individual work in a classroom setting.
Archer addressed the audience first by describing her work within the Biology Department at Trinity. She has been working as an Associate Professor since 1990, and recently finished a two-year study where she attempted to answer the question, “How do students learn?” She conducted her experiment in a BIO 181 class by using various forms of testing and recording students’ results. Archer was primarily focused on group tests among her biology students, and gathered evidence that sought to prove whether they performed better on their final exam, which they took individually, after taking several group tests throughout the semester. After two years of collecting data and studying the figures, Archer regretfully admitted that group testing had no apparent effect. Though the quantitative facts are irrefutable, she was careful to say that she still believed group test taking was a positive addition to her teaching method.
Based on what she witnessed within the classroom, Archer said that she had never seen such a positive learning environment among her students as when they took a group exam. It was a different, though equally successful type of learning that she did not see with individual testing. She added that though test grades did not reflect any difference in the students, qualitative data such as final class evaluations showed that roughly 2/3 of her class preferred group tests to individual ones.
Cheng took a different approach in his presentation and spoke about the changes he made to two Trinity engineering courses within the past two years. Before explaining the changes in course work he made, he showed the audience a slide of two different types of learning. The first was called the “pour it in” model, where a professor simply lectures to his students and expects them to retain and memorize the knowledge. The second, which Cheng used as inspiration for his research, was called the “keep it flowing” method, where knowledge is transferred from the professor initially, but then kept moving from student to student interaction.
He emphasized his two main objectives for his research; his designs needed to have a real world setting and they must have the ability to be completed within two to three weeks. Like Archer, Cheng experimented with the differences between group work and individual work and the overall effect on students’ succss. An important addition he made to his coursework was a worksheet where students could write down as many ideas as possible and share them with the class. Cheng carefully balanced this type of individual work and the group work that took place inside the lab. He also included a presentation aspect to the course requirements so that his students could show their creativity and unique approach to the design model, as well as to enhance overall presentation skills. As his presentation came to a close, Cheng pulled up a past presentation from one of his students to demonstrate how his “rapid design” course model turned out and the successful results it generated.
The CTL works to promote effectiveness in teaching in all its dimensions and focuses on supporting newly hired, untenured faculty at Trinity and providing them with the tools necessary to maximize their teaching efforts. Some of the main goals of the CTL consist of educating faculty on effective teaching techniques, scholarships, and the role of liberal arts education. The CTL hosts events and seminars throughout the year that are open to the public and welcome faculty and students of all academic standing.