Facilitating Student learning
Scholarly studies of student learning have demonstrated that individuals have differing learning profiles. One of the challenges of an instructor is to take such differences into consideration and build varying teaching and evaluation methods into a course. While many academics may fondly remember the brilliant lecture courses of their undergraduate career, and reflect on their personal triumphs on mid-term exams, they must realize that their individual learning methods are not necessarily the same as their students’. To be a responsible instructor means considering the diverse learning methods and abilities of all of our students. Certain students may be particularly adept at learning by memorization, and thus profit from a strict lecture course format, while others may learning only by “doing” and thus find lab-like exercises more efficient formats for learning, still other students may learn only by engaging with others, and thus profit from group learning activities. Likewise, different students will excel in varying evaluation formats. If an instructor only offers lengthy in-class essay exams, students with short attention spans, text anxiety, or limited ability to write quickly under pressure, will not perform to their potential. However, if students are given a variety of evaluation opportunities – e.g., brief oral presentations, short “factual” quizzes, take-home research essays, and/or group-work opportunities – then they are given a fair chance to excel in the course.
While the traditional instructional model consists of scholars lecturing “at” their students, we must adapt our approach to this instructional method in response to pedagogical scholarship. Many instructors turn to lecturing as a default instructional method, but it is perhaps the most challenging format in which to promote student learning. Still, if an instructor is a good public speaker, prepares well for class, and engages with the students throughout the class period, his or her lectures may, indeed, promote active learning and offer inspirational and memorable learning experiences to students.
Active Learning techniques
For those of us who are mere mortals and not lecturing demigods, active learning techniques offer more accessible ways to approach a classroom of students and encourage the highest level of learning for all students. Scholarship has shown that learning is an active, not a passive, process. Students will learn more effectively if they solve problems along with an instructor rather than passively listening to an instructors factual conclusions (ex., if students are asked to remember facts about a site, they might remember dates and details better if asked to work in groups to draw conclusions about this information by utilizing drawings, data and information, rather than simply being force-fed the conclusions by an instructor in a lecture format).
There are a myriad of options for teaching through active learning and it would be impossible to review them all at first pass here. Some are simple methods with which we are all familiar – questions and answer, discussion, debate – but which all too easily lead to awkward classroom moments and superficial conversations without sufficient instructor preparation. Likewise, the more complex techniques such as group work and on-site learning, while vital to field-work in archaeology, can only successfully be integrated into classroom instruction with pre-planning and studied technique.
Again, turning to the wealth of scholarly material available on pedagogy will offer a new instructor the opportunity to select from, and build upon, a wide variety of tried-and-true active learning approaches and techniques. Some easily-implemented techniques include microthemes (in which students briefly write on a topic at the start or conclusion of the class so that the instructor can evaluate the effectiveness of the class and the student can solidify his/her successful mastery of a topic), in-class group work, or on-line chats. Such new classroom resources such as the I-Clicker (developed at the University of Illinois), allow active learning even in large classrooms. With the I-Clicker, students can respond to a professor’s question immediately using an electronic transmitor, allowing for quick surveys of student opinion, or pop-quizzes of their mastery of a concept upon which the instructor has just lectured.
Teaching and technology
I clicker http://www.iclicker.com/