Moving Content into "Prepare"

PURPOSE

Instructors are often reluctant to include more Teach One Another activities in their classes because they feel that they would not be able to cover as much course content. This tool shares ideas on how to structure courses so that students can learn relevant content prior to meetingthus freeing in-class time for activities that build upon student preparation to deepen learning.

DESCRIPTION

The Learning Model suggests shifting student efforts so that core content and concepts are studied prior to class. President Clark has admonished students to “always do the assigned readings or problemsbefore class.” (Devotional, Sept 5, 2006). Such levels of preparation open up class time for richer learning.

In order to establish these enhanced learning conditions, expectations and course content must be strategically managed. The following issues have been found to be particularly relevant in moving course content from the classroom to the students’ pre-class prepare assignments.

Faculty and Student Expectations

Students are accustomed to the traditional lecture. They expect the content in the textbook to be paraphrased in class and cry foul if something on an exam was not reviewed in class. Helping students more actively engage their learning is not easy. Explain to them that your course requires more than parroting back memorized lectures. Explain that key information for the class and for the test will not all be covered in class, but that they are individually and collectively responsible to study it nonetheless.

Even when it is unreasonable to expect students to understand difficult material on their own, it is reasonable to expect that they prepare sufficiently to be able to explain their difficulties and ask relevant questions.

Instructor expectations are important to students in making this transition. You must feel comfortable that the core content and concepts you push out to Prepare assignments can be adequately addressed in that manner (whether texts or online resources). Furthermore, you must have confidence in students’ capacity to prepare. And ultimately, you must sincerely believe that the most productive use of class time lies in the actively engaged learning represented by Teach One Another and other forms of collaborative and active learning.

The Strategic Placement of Content

Consider the following ideas as you structure and place your content:

  • Delete unnecessary content. Check for alignment between content and learning outcomes. Decide what material is critical for the course and what is not. Cut what is unnecessary.
  • Pace the content. Don’t overload students. Determine what can be realistically studied in the limited amount of time that students have for preparation (Generally 2 hours of study outside of class for every hour in class).  
  • Choose content based on how it’s best studied. Various types of learning are best achieved in different ways. Memorization, vocabulary, definitions, etc. often can be more easily approached through individual preparation. On the other hand, conceptual nuances, relationships, and causality are best achieved by collaborative activities. (Black, 1993) Select the best approach for the type of learning. Save class time for activities that can only be accomplished by gathering in class.
  • Align preparation with class activities. When students invest their time to come prepared they expect to apply and draw connections in class. Design preparation material as preparation for classroom experiences. If not obvious, point out the relevance and application.
  • Select appropriate media. Content can be delivered in a variety of ways. A picture may be worth a thousand words. I-learn provides a way for you to share text, animated illustrations, narrated slides, and videos (including YouTube videos). It’s even possible to post PowerPoint slides with a voice-over.  Students can listen to the instructor explain the lecture material at home before coming in to class to move deeper.
  • Build and share content resources. Collaborate with fellow instructors to develop a library of good preparation assignments. Avoid investing in resources that coould not be used by others.

Structure of Prepare Assignments

Getting students to successfully prepare requires significant structure and support. They need to know not only what to read or study, but how to do so, what ideas to be looking for, questions to ask of the text etc.  Often professors have a specific framework that they use for presenting certain material.  The framework represents the way in which they have made sense of the material.  Since students have far less experience with the material, it’s unreasonable to expect them to generate frameworks or questions on their own.  It’s therefore critical to provide them with reading helps, study guides, outlines to complete, questions about the text or other means of guiding their study.

Adjust Lessons Based on Preparation Assignments

Structure online preparation activities so that you can monitor and assess their preparation. Review online quizzes, scan postings, and keep tabs on discussion boards to get a feel for the students’ understanding before you meet with them. This approach permits you to make formative assessments before class. Doing so also provides advanced notice for you as yuo consider adjustments to your lesson plans.

EXAMPLES

While revising his syllabus, Bryan became anxious as he wondered how he would squeeze his biology course into a shortened semester. While he wanted to devote more class time to discussion and collaborative activities, he felt this might come at the expense of not covering important material with his lectures that guide students through significant amounts of assigned reading.

As he pondered this need to direct students through the material, he remembered study guides that had assisted him in college. He considered such an approach to free some of the class time and outlined a template that he could use with units of his course. This outlines could then the framework for the material he had previously covered in class.

The student approach towards preparation, however, would have to change. The text would have to become the primary source of content for the course so he could be liberated from reviewing material. Bryan decided that his study guides could not only point out the key elements of the reading, but must also require students to do more critical thinking. This would require developing some problems to go along with the reading. Furthermore Bryan thought of requiring the submission of questions about reading as “tickets” to come to class. He could then use this information to modify the activities planned for the class period.

TIPS

  • Establish your expectations early. Hold students accountable for their preparation with quizzes and self-assessment from the very first day.
  • Focus and guide student preparation. Stick to the essential content so students are not overwhelmed with preparation assignments. Relevance. Help students see how preparation activities introduce core content and concepts for discussion and application in class.

PITFALLS

  • Adding more content. Some see moving content to prepare as a way to open space to cover even more material during class. This overloads most students and diminishes learning.

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