Course Redesign Finds Right Blend of Content Delivery and Active Learning

Introductory courses are packed with content. Teachers struggle to get through it during class; students struggle to master it outside of class. Too often learning consists of memorizing material that’s used on the exam but not retained long after. Faculty know they should use more strategies that engage students, but those approaches take time and, in most courses, that’s in very short supply.

Blended-learning designs can be used to help with the problem. Technology offers other options for dealing with course content. The article referenced below recounts one faculty member’s experiences redesigning a gateway cell biology course. In a nutshell, all the lecture content was recorded as 10-20 minute voice over PowerPoint presentations. Class time was devoted to “activities … entirely focused on student engagement with the content and with each other.” (p. 35) What happened in class did not repeat the content but was based on assigned readings in the text and material covered in the recorded lectures.

A variety of interesting classroom activities was used, including a version of the time-tested muddiest-point strategy. Upon arriving in class students submitted index cards with questions about things from the readings or the lecture that they did not understand. A sample of these questions was read aloud and then students and the professor discussed and answered them. Students also participated in another index-card activity that presented them with a scenario or experimental data not discussed in the lectures or readings. Students worked on these questions in small groups and then developed and submitted a group answer. During class the instructor also had students respond to questions using clickers.


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