Tuesday, April 15, 2008

9 big class learnings (2008)

To give some context: I teach students communication skills, this runs for 12 weeks and involves 772 students in a Health faculty. This group is split into 4 lecture groups, each receiving one 2 hour lecture per week, and a one hour tutorial (in group sixe of approx 30)

1. Some things take no longer in a big class than a small one;
the lesson learned is be selective.
Favourite task for checking everyone's 'on the same page' regarding concepts crucial to the course and taught within the first couple of weeks. This one came from a MOE literacy cluster. On a word doc make 3 columns, in the first column put the title 'words' , in the second column put a title 'definitions', in the 3rd column again title it 'words'. Then put about 5 words crucial to your topic in the first column, leaving a few lines between. In class give out one of these between 2, have the pairs select to be a or b. Then instruct the a's to define these words, writing their understandings in the 2nd column. Then fold the paper vertically so the partner b cannot see the first column. Their task is to discern what concept was being defined. Provides an opportunity for peer teaching, 2 way, understanding as well as clarity of meanings...

2. Solicited written feedback is richer; I used Stephen Brookfields 5 questions critical incident questionaire. My experience is students like shaping courses.

3. Do the big delivery stuff, but also do the talk with the people next to you.
Tasks in pairs help engage people with the content. My experience is that trust is made on the smaller scale. Speaking out seems easier when the classes engender speaking...

4. Use the big impact of the big venue. I recommend in your face imagery, loud noise dramatics, use of voice; not as gimmicks but integral to content. Helps to use photos over clip art.
My favourites this year include:
The use of strong graphics, red white black...stats that were damning, use of visual images supporting these. (Lessons learned online from death by ppt by Alexei Kapterev, presentation zen, Seth Godin, youtube- how not to make a ppt presentation by Don McMillan...) I have had to rethink my ppts but they are so much better. The medium carries the message, the power of strong visuals wins over lines of writing on a screen.
Use of graphs; my favourite was on how empathy commonly decreases with each year of education that appeared to be drawn insitu. (Inspired from TEDtalks Hans Rosling)
The use of loud noise during a creative visualisation demonstrated the application of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as a prompt to consider what goes on in thinking, emotions, behaviours and physiology. And therefore led into a discussion of what might be changed.
The mexican wave affirmed that big classes are better at some things :)
a demonstration piece of verbal and non verbal communications ( I really do need visual imagery of classes, some creative editing and a promotion panel... )

5. Make learning an easy choice. A lesson learned in health promotion. I am not suggesting all learning should be easy or fun, but it helps. The ppts are online, as is a podcast. Talk the content. I think students come because its about engagement.
(the online ppts have fewer graphics to keep the file size down)

6. I tell stories. Transforming knowledge by demonstrating application, and modeling the critique of these, engaging students with questions of the good the bad and the ugly.

7. Plan but also stay flexible. What you want and what you get resource wise will always be less than promised and less than ideal.

8. Stay idealistic. I invest in seeing what's possible and adapt to what's possible.
Stephen Downes site Oldaily is great for updates.

9. Post the great ideas, either blog them under big class teaching or post to del.icio.us that way others share too :)

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