Podcast Episode 50: Active Learning with Peter LePage

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Peter LePage from the Cornell Physics Department joins us on our extra special 50th episode to talk about active learning pedagogy. He shares his first teaching experiences, his introduction to physics education research, and why he believes students benefit from problem solving and discussion in class. We also talk about the Active Learning Inititive, a program Peter started at Cornell that was inspired by Carl Wieman’s Science Education Initiative. Both programs aim to change the culture of teaching in higher education by giving departments large grants to radically overhaul how they teach their undergraduate courses.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Introducing Peter LePage. Peter’s first teaching assignment at Cornell. What active learning in physics meant back then: Demonstrations.

6:27 Wiring a Cornell classroom with an audience response system back in the 70’s. Engaging students in a large auditorium-style classroom, rather than a special purpose ‘studio.’ Learning from Eric Mazur.

13:27 Modifying a traditional lecture with one or two activities per class meeting: incremental vs. whole hog. LePage’s mental model of how students learn: learning from Arnold Arons. Identifying students’ misconceptions through multiple choice questions, and measuring progress.

16:48 The role of assessment. Slowly learning how to measure. Using a validated instrument to measure learning: a “huge advance.” “They aren’t things you…whip together.”

21:01 The FCI (Force Concept Inventory) and the TUCE (Test of Understanding College Economics). There are more modest ways to measure learning outcomes. Measure soon after your intervention as possible. You can measure in the humanities, too.

26:55 Rewriting in the humanities is a way of promoting expertise through directed practice.

29:54 Being a dean was “different, very different” from teaching. Peter’s recipe for dealing with faculty.

33:10 The Active Learning Initiative at Cornell: what it is, how it started. Carl Wieman’s role, what he was doing at UBC and Colorado. A plausible model for institutional changes in teaching. A competitive grant program targeted at departments and groups of courses to provide time and support to the motivated.

41:27 Going beyond STEM teaching and changing the culture of the institution. Making teaching experimentation public. Doug’s department (Economics) is a recent winner of an ALI grant, and he’s pretty excited.

47:55 More incremental and individually-focused paths. Being negative about lecturing can shut down interest. Active learning is fun!

50:02 Bumps along the road. Peter’s teaching mistakes? Making mistakes every day. Just be trying things all the time. Transforming teaching in the humanities and learning from folks outside your discipline.

56:55 The humanist’s method of looking into how students are thinking.

59:33 Thanks and sign-off.

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