Category Archives: Teaching

May 19, 2014, 12:25 pm

Technology, learning, and institutional mission statements

13164220234_91e79f4575_mRight now I’m preparing for a talk I’m giving next month, in which I’ll be speaking on using technology to connect students, faculty and institutions to the fundamentally human activities of learning and growth. Of those three groups – students, faculty, and institutions – I’m finding it to be a lot easier to talk about students and faculty and their relationship to technology than it is to talk about institutions. I’m wondering: Why is that?

After all, people are messy – we are a combination of social backgrounds, economic statuses, geography, past learning experiences, attitudes, preconceptions and more. When we advocate for the “use of technology” in learning, this phrase has to take all of these aspects of each person involved into account. That’s what makes the “use of technology” hard – and it explains why simplistic applications of technology in…

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May 16, 2014, 9:46 am

Flipped learning skepticism: What about technology?

90720334_b9af55cc90_mTo continue the blog post series  I’ve been doing (installments one, two, and three) that addresses skepticisms about flipped learning, I wanted to dip into something other than my own comment sections, and go to a general class of skepticisms I’ve heard when I do workshops. Those skepticisms involve technology. Specifically, although I’ve never heard a single formulation of this skepticism, there are two ways it can occur:

  • I’m skeptical about the flipped classroom because implementing it requires technology, and not all students have access to the technology they need.
  • I’m skeptical about the flipped classroom because implementing it requires technology, and I (the instructor) don’t have the time/inclination/skill to learn what I need.

As I’ll explain, I think it’s possible these are legitimate concerns[1], but they’re easily dealt with in a number of ways.

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May 5, 2014, 1:07 pm

Flipped learning skepticism: Do students want to have lectures?

3036729806_47d038324b_mThis article continues a look at some of the skepticisms I’ve seen about flipped learning and the flipped classroom. Previously, we discussed whether flipped learning means having students learn everything on their own and whether students can even learn on their own in the first place.

This time I want to focus on an issue that was the third point in a good comment from a previous post about flipped learning. In that post, I was reporting about a framework for defining what flipped learning is. The authors of that framework laid out four “pillars of practice” for the flipped classroom, one of which was the creation of a learning culture — student-centered communities of inquiry instead of instructor-centered lectures. The comment on that was:

As far as creating a “learning culture”? Again, this was more possible when I worked at a 4 year school. It is possible to some extent, but…

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April 30, 2014, 12:49 pm

Flipped learning skepticism: Can students really learn on their own?

96516632_dfe685dc9c_mWe’re currently looking at points of skepticism about flipped learning and the flipped classroom. In the last post, we discussed the issue of students objecting to the flipped classroom because it is nothing more than having students teach themselves the subject. My response to that was that flipped learning should never look like the instructor simply giving students reading to do and walking away; like any effective pedagogy, it should involve a partnership between student and instructor that focuses on crucial learning experiences in class, which under the flipped model is wide open for such experiences.

Here’s another point of skepticism brought up in an earlier discussion about flipped learning, and it’s related to the first one. As with last time, I am quoting directly from one of the comments on an even earlier post:

I work at a community college. Many students are there…

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April 28, 2014, 12:00 pm

Flipped learning skepticism: Is flipped learning just self-teaching?

3366045227_b2c630bde5_mI had to take a bit of a hiatus for the last two weeks to finish up the semester and to give and grade exams. Now that this is over, I wanted to come back and address some of the comments in these two posts. Specifically, many of those comments are principled skepticisms of flipped learning and the flipped classroom, and rather than bury my responses in an already crowded comment thread, I thought they deserved to be brought up point by point for discussion.

Here’s the first one to bring up, and it’s a tough one. This (and many of the other topics I’ll be bringing up) come directly from Manda Caine’s comment on one of those earlier posts. She said:

When my colleagues and I have [taught with a flipped classroom], students do not perceive that a professor is teaching them at all, so we have comments such as, “We could just do this at home” or “Why am I paying all this…

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April 14, 2014, 2:57 pm

The hidden costs of unsolicited textbooks — a view from the mailroom

Back in January I posted an article calling for an end to unsolicited review copies of textbooks being sent to professors. Interestingly, on Reddit a student at my university who works for the mail services department did an AMA, and I had the chance to ask: What kind of impact does it make on the university, from an infrastructure or mail services point of view, to have all these unsolicited books being sent in? Keep in mind that we’re a public university of 24,000 students and lots and lots of faculty. Here are some highlights from his response, which I thought was pretty interesting though not totally surprising:

Ugh, I HATE those! Nobody wants them, nobody asks for them, and they take up valuable space in our truck and our holding area.

As far as the cost it passes onto us, it’s definitely hard to quantify, but I can tell you all the different ways we waste time on those…

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April 8, 2014, 2:58 pm

The problem is not the students.

Last week I posted what I considered to be an innocuous and mildly interesting post about a proposed formal definition of flipped learning. I figured it would generate a few retweets and start some conversations. Instead, it spawned one of the longest comment threads we’ve had around here in a while – probably the longest if you mod out all the Khan Academy posts. It was a comment thread that made me so angry in places that it has taken me a week to calm down to the point where I feel I can respond.

It takes a bit of backstory to explain why I was so emotionally worked up over some of the comments in that thread, so bear with me for a minute.

We’re in week 13 of our semester here. I am teaching three courses (two preps), all using flipped learning models. One of these courses is part of the General Education curriculum, and the other serves mostly students in the CS…

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April 1, 2014, 2:34 pm

Toward a common definition of “flipped learning”

2014-04-01_14-33-25We’ve seen a significant ramping up of interest in – and exposure to – the flipped/inverted classroom over the last few years, and it’s been nice to see an uptick in the amount of research being done into its effectiveness. But one thing that’s been lacking has been a consensus on what the flipped classroom actually is. If a professor assigns readings to do before class and then holds discussions in class, is that “the flipped classroom”? I’ve said in the past that it is not (necessarily), but that’s just me. Now, however, a group of educators and others interested in flipped learning are proposing a common definition of flipped learning, and it’s pretty interesting.

Their definition of flipped learning goes like this:

Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and…

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March 18, 2014, 4:34 pm

What should mathematics majors know about computing, and when should they know it?

5064804_8d77e0d256_mYesterday I got an email from a reader who had read this post called What should math majors know about computing? from 2007. In the original article, I gave a list of what computing skills mathematics majors should learn and when they should learn them. The person emailing me was wondering if I had any updates on that list or any new ideas, seven years on from writing the article.

If anything, over the past seven years, my feelings about the centrality of computing in the mathematics major have gotten even more entrenched. Mostly this is because of two things.

First, I know more computer science and computer programming now than I did in 1997. I’ve learned Python over the last three years along with some of its related systems like NumPy and SciPy, and I’ve successfully used Python as a tool in my research. I’ve taken a MOOC on algorithms and read, in whole or in part, books…

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March 11, 2014, 2:34 pm

Getting off on the right foot in an inverted calculus class

5524669257_ab67585fd0_mIn the previous post about the flipped/inverted calculus class, we looked at getting student buy-in for the flipped concept, so that when they are asked to do Guided Practice and other such assignments, they won’t rebel (much). When you hear people talk about the flipped classroom, much of the time the emphasis is on what happens before class – the videos, how to get students to do the reading, and so on. But the real magic is what happens in class when students come, prepared with some basic knowledge they’ve acquired for themselves, and put it to work with their peers on hard problems.

But before this happens, there’s an oddly complex buffer zone that students and instructors have to cross, and that’s the time when students arrive at the class meeting. Really? you are thinking. How can arrival to class be such a complicated thing? They show up, you get to work, right? Well…

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