UW News

April 13, 2006

Classroom innovations to be featured at Symposium of Teaching and Learning

Innovative teaching practices of UW faculty and TAs will be showcased on April 25 when the Symposium on Teaching and Learning comes to Mary Gates Commons. The symposium will feature 25 poster presentations by 52 faculty and teaching assistants representing 30 departments and programs on all three UW campuses.

“This is our second year holding the event, and we are excited that we have more presentations this year than last, and more variety in the disciplines and departments represented,” said Wayne Jacobson, the associate director of the Center for Instructional Development and Research and a member of the planning committee for the event. “And although a few of last year’s presenters are back this year, they have new topics, so the program is brand new.”

Jacobson said the call that went out inviting participation was open-ended, but that the topics on the program grouped nicely under three main categories — Enhancing Learning in the Classroom, Teaching Across the Disciplines and Students as Researchers.

Jennifer Evans, a graduate student who teaches in the English as a Second Language Program is presenting as part of the enhancing learning category, under the subcategory “Engaging Students.” Her method? She has them play games. And she’s quite serious about having fun in the classroom.

“When I start off a new class with games, it breaks down awkwardness and helps me create a community quickly,” she said. “And watching how the students play the games helps me see where they are in their understanding.’

One of her games, for example, is called “Hot Seat.” One student sits in the hot seat with his or her back to the board. A word is written on the board, and the hot seat occupant’s team must try to get him or her to say the word by defining or describing it in some way.

“One time we were playing this game and the word was ‘foster,'” Evans said. “The definition I was looking for was to promote, but I saw the students were using it as in foster child, so that told me I had to talk to them about the other definition.”

Every game calls upon the students to reflect on what they’ve learned in class and apply it to the strategy of winning the games, Evans said. Then, after the game reveals what students are struggling with, she creates a mini-lesson to review the topics that need more attention.

Students in Senior Lecturer Daryl Pedigo’s classes are using clickers similar to the kind used to change TV channels, but they’re not involved in any games. Pedigo’s presentation, which falls under the “Teaching and Technology” subcategory of enhancing learning, is about a very different interactive strategy.

“I think it’s useful when you’re dealing with a large class to break up the lecture every 10 or 15 minutes,” Pedigo said. “So what I do is ask the students questions based on the material I’ve been covering and have them click to choose the correct answer.”

A histogram of the students’ answers appears on a screen, but without anyone’s name connected to it. That way, Pedigo can tell how well the class as a group is understanding the material and can adjust his lecture accordingly. And because students must register their clickers, he also has a record of how each individual student is doing and can assign them points — more points for correct answers than incorrect but some points just for participating.

“I’ve been using the clickers since 2003, and at first students complained about them because they cost $30,” Pedigo said. “But now many of my colleagues in the Physics Department use them too, so students can use them for several classes and resell them used.”

Now, he says, the students are happy with the clickers, and the idea is spreading to other departments.

Graduate students John Withey, Dave Oleyar and Adrienne Greve will give a presentation as part of the “Teaching Across the Disciplines” category at the symposium. The three were involved in teaching a course in urban ecology that took that idea to an extreme, as it involved nine graduate students from four different programs.

Although Withey and Greve think the interdisciplinary course was a great success, they said that part of its success came from the fact that they made the team teaching something of a behind-the-scenes function. “The team who taught it the year before we did were open with the students about being a team, and this caused problems,” Greve explained. “The students didn’t know where the buck stopped, and they would go to different members of the team with their questions and get different answers.”

So Withey and Greve’s team decided to assign roles to everyone on the team and to designate one person as head instructor. Withey took that role, four others became guest experts who gave some lectures, three were TAs who ran discussion sections, and one person became the webmaster.

“It worked very well,” Greve said. “The students bought it.”

“We want to tell people at the symposium that interdisciplinary classes are challenging, but there are ways of organizing them so they work well,” Withey said. “Usually, when you talk about team teaching, you’re talking about two people, but we can show it’s possible to have many more.”

The symposium will run from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Visitors can simply wander through the commons and talk to presenters whose topics interest them, Jacobson said.

He said the presenters from last year were surveyed after the event and said they valued the opportunity to present to their colleagues on campus and to get feedback on their ideas.

“They are many ways to bring your research to a wider audience,” Jacobson said, “but there are not so many ways to make your teaching public. This is a unique opportunity for faculty and TAs To make presentations about teaching to their own colleagues.”

For the complete schedule of presenters at the symposium, go to http://depts.washington.edu/sotl/2006/Symposium.html