Outside observers can give instructors valuable formative feedback, and with the right observers and the right instruments, classroom observation can also be a useful (if incomplete) measure of teaching quality. Our guest, Marilyne Stains, teaches in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln where she specializes in chemical and science education. She has used a range of measures of instructor and student behavior in her research and recently co-authored the largest-ever study of STEM teaching practices that analyzed classroom observation data for more than 2,000 classes. In this episode, we discuss the pros and cons of a variety of classroom observation techniques from reliable objective measures like COPUS to completely unstructured note-taking.
My DBER journal club recently read “A Mathematician’s Lament.” While I couldn’t attend the actual discussion, I really enjoyed the essay. The gist is that math is practical, but it can also be a creative art form, and this is completely ignored in the vast majority of K-12 math classes. Kids have no exposure to math as play beyond gamified drills of arithmetic facts. Working mathematicians on the other hand don’t just know a whole bunch of definitions and algorithms–They actively create and try to see a beautiful abstract world in ways no one has before. Mathematicians have a lot more in common with painters and sculptors than they do accountants or even engineers.
Monroe Weber-Shirk has taught engineering at Cornell for 24 years, and in 2005 he started the AguaClara Cornell program where he works closely with local partners, graduate students, and up to 80 undergraduates at a time. Together they develop, implement, and maintain sustainable water treatment facilities in multiple developing countries. It’s an incredible model of deeply engaged learning at scale, and in this episode Monroe tells us how it works and how he got here.
Mac Stetzer from the University of Maine Department of Physics and Astronomy is an active physics education researcher with lots of experience teaching teachers how to teach physics better. In this episode he shares his lessons learned working with undergraduate learning assistants, graduate student teaching assistants, and teachers at the K-12 level.
After singing the praises of two stage exams a few weeks ago, I was dismayed when I saw the scores on our latest (two stage) midterm exam. Average individual scores were low (67), and while average group scores were higher (77), there was clearly a whole bunch of learning being left on the table. Luckily my teaching team is a creative bunch, and we improvised a successful third stage for the exam.
Like so many things I’ve tried in the classroom this year, I first heard about two-stage exams at Carl Wieman’s summer workshop. The idea is to have students first take an exam individually (i.e., the usual way), and then have them take the same exam again in groups. My students in Applied Econometrics have done this three times this spring and the results have been glorious.
Everyone has an opinion about course evaluations, but unfortunately most of these opinions are based on personal anecdotes and armchair speculation. Our guest in this episode is Betsy Barre, author of several articles reviewing the literature on what’s right and what’s wrong with course evaluations. Betsy is currently an Associate Director at Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence, and in May 2018 she will move on to become the Executive Director of the Teaching and Learning Collaborative at Wake Forest University. We cover a lot of ground during our conversation about this important and complex topic.