It seems that every second of the last month has been spent working through technical and logistical issues in the Learning Labs and as a result, I confess I often forgot why they seemed like a good idea in the first place. This week Shiela and I worked with a UGS class where the professor gave us full license to “take the Learning Lab for a spin,” as he said. And we did. And then I remembered why we built them to begin with.
Constructivism and active learning – we talk about these things quite a bit. We try to employ a combination of learning by discovery and guided learning into our classes, and to recognize what knowledge our students already bring into the classroom and build upon that. We try not to lecture or talk for too long at any stretch. We try to assess along the way with Q&A and do quick assessments at the end with a 3-2-1 or muddiest point. I’ve always felt that I was doing a pretty decent job of teaching students what I wanted them to learn in our old classrooms.
But in the class this week in a Learning Lab, I learned so much about how our students are (or are not) learning what we are trying to teach them. We were able to address the learning gaps right there in the class. It was messy, sometimes uncomfortable but also really fun and energizing – just like learning is supposed to be!
If anyone wants to see our whole class outline, I’m happy to share it but I want to focus on one part. Students needed to know how to find scholarly articles, which means they needed to be able to use our databases, including some tricky Classics ones. One of the exercises we did that took up the bulk of class time was to give each group a database, have them figure it out and teach it to the rest of the class. We handed out this exercise (below) and had each group collaborate around a different flat panel. Then as each group was teaching their database to the rest of the class, we sent that group’s flat panel around to all of them.
We saw them struggling with all of the databases, not just the Classics databases. Even JSTOR which seems like an easy one, was difficult. As they taught the rest of the class, Shiela, the professor and I were able to ask them clarifying questions and clear up misconceptions. They presented what they were confident they knew but they were often a little (or a lot) off the mark and we were able to address that right there. It made me wonder what misconceptions every other student I’ve taught still carries around with them.
The down side – we covered a lot less ground. The up side – they seemed to learn it better. I’ll be getting copies of their assignments for further assessment but I left that session feeling inspired!
Before sharing my thoughts with the professor, I asked him what he thought, and here is what he had to say.
“I thought it was fantastically successful, although of course the real proof will be in their preliminary bibliographies for the research paper… I really liked the group component, and I thought that having them explain the databases to each other was a great strategy. And having seen those screens work in practice, I’m completely convinced.
… my general impression was that this format was far more effective than our previous versions — not that those weren’t great too, but there’s something about working through a particular problem and sharing the results that makes the databases and the process more concrete to everyone.”
So there you have it. If anyone else has already tried something new in the Learning Labs, please let me know or share in the comments.
Use your assigned database to find a source that you would use for this assignment. Be prepared to teach this database to your fellow-students by demonstrating a search and telling them the answers to the following questions.
- What database are you using? What is it good for/what would you find in it?
- Show a search. If possible, show or explain how you’d find the full text of the article.
- What tips or suggestions do you have for using this database?