by Laurel Willingham-McLain, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University
At a recent faculty reception, a colleague recounted how a simple change he had made in his teaching was making a big difference for both him and his students. He had been experimenting with ways for students to “internalize” the content by describing a related personal experience and noting personal lessons they had learned. Students find it an engaging learning experience and seem to like relating and contributing to the course content, he told me.
Another faculty colleague and I have been chatting about how she has begun using exam wrappers to help students learn from the exam experience itself and take more responsibility for their learning.
These are just two examples of “small” approaches that are known to deepen student learning.
At CTE (Duquesne), we will be focusing on small teaching approaches through an initiative called SCALE: Small Changes Advancing LEarning.
We are inspired by many colleagues, but in particular by James Lang’s Small Changes in Teaching series, and his book, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (2016). Using a “small ball” metaphor from baseball, Lang writes, “I became convinced… that fundamental pedagogical improvement was possible through incremental change—in the same way that winning the World Series was possible through stealing bases and hitting sacrifice fly balls” (p. 5). Lang offers well researched teaching approaches that require minimal preparation and grading and can be adapted by teachers in varied contexts. They take three basic forms:
- Brief (5-10 minute) classroom or online learning activities
- One-time interventions in a course
- Small modifications in course design or communication with students
Stay tuned for CTE Small Teaching book studies over the next few semesters.
Another example of small teaching is the “transparent assignment design,” promoted by Mary-Ann Winkelmes and colleagues in the Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project. Their research shows demonstrable gains in learning, especially among underserved student populations, when faculty simply revise course assignments to clearly articulate purpose, task, and criteria. Dr. Winkelmes led Duquesne faculty in a hands-on workshop in April 2016, and the video and materials are available online (with a Duquesne multipass). CTE offers an adapted version of this workshop again on September 28, 2016.
Finally, we are drawing on AAC&U research of ten high-impact practices and their common key elements. On September 16, AAC&U Vice President, Terrel Rhodes, will present an open session for faculty and graduate students TAs titled, Better Together: Highly Effective Practices for Engaged Learning (Read more here).
Join us in discovering the power of small changes in teaching and learning that are:
- Known to benefit students equitably
- Achievable by instructors in varied contexts
- Open to creativity
- Based on principles of learning