Changing the Classroom with Evidence-Based Teaching

Five of our faculty members: Carina Fourie, Carole Lee, Colin Marshall, Conor Mayo-Wilson and Ian Schnee, participated in the University’s Evidence-Based Teaching pilot. Instructional consultants from the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and UW-IT collaborate with the pilot participants as they design, enact and assess techniques of evidence-based teaching practices. The project also encourages the participants to use each other as resources by discussing practices and difficulties in the classroom with other pilot participants regularly in a faculty learning community.

Professor Carina Fourie found that participating in the program has provided her with guidance on how to adapt her teaching practices in small ways to encourage greater active learning from the students and how to use teaching techniques that are more inclusive. For example, she had found previously that when she asked questions in class, the same students - a small group, often male - tended to volunteer to answer the questions. She was hoping to find techniques to motivate more students to participate. On the basis of what she learnt in the pilot program, she started using the technique of ‘random call’. She would randomly call on specific students to answer the questions—by first assigning each student a number and then using a random number generator to choose the student. If students did not want to answer the question, they were welcome to say ‘pass’. She was nervous initially about using this technique—it seemed like she was picking on students and she was worried that the shy students would be made to feel excessively anxious. When she put it in practice though, it appeared to work well. Most impressive for her was that it seemed to encourage a greater number of students, and a greater variety of them, to volunteer to answer questions. Perhaps seeing so many of their peers answering 'random call’ questions successfully, or at least without suffering any embarrassment, boosted their confidence, and made many of them much more likely to speak out. In her next lecture course, she will be continuing to make and streamline small changes like this.

One of the methods, Professor Colin Marshall is going to try in his class is “Random Discussion Leader.” As the name of the method implies, the leader of the class on a given day is chosen at random and, while they do not need to lead the class in speaking, they need to choose how the material is going to be discussed that day. It could be a debate, or a series of questions, or anything the student chooses. Professor Marshall’s colleagues in the project have demonstrated that this encourages and motivates the students to walk into the class prepared with the material for the day and to be engaged in the discussion since they know that their turn could be on any given day. He also received a simple suggestion from a psychology lecturer in the pilot project, who sat in on his two-hour class, to allow the students to have a stretch during their small group discussion during the latter half of the class. This simple suggestion has improved the learning experience of his students that were tired and restless in the second hour.

The philosophy professors in this pilot program will continue to work together in regular discussion groups in the CTL as departmental cohorts working together to improve each other’s teaching practices with innovative ideas.