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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

what happens when you free students to learn

I was astonished by the depth and breadth of learning that the students brought to class today. Trevor assigned these 50-some juniors in groups of 4-5 to review a biomedical device implant case. The format was something called "grand rounds" in the medical profession. An individual reviews a patient case with salient facts and decisions and procedures administered. They were given the weekend to chose from among seven different cases, each approximately 100 words or less. We told them that after presenting the case (usually 1-2 minutes), they would be asked questions about their decisions in the case. Students from each group would be chosen at random to speak when it was their team's turn to present.

This is only the 6th day of class.  Without exception, each of the 11 presenters was able to answer a wide range of questions about the medical device that was implanted, the operating procedures, the post-operative risks, and the rational for their choices--using correct medical terminology throughout.  It was clear that they had freely researched far beyond the initial 100-word text to create a more complete and individualized understanding. They possessed a level of sophistication in their knowledge that was dramatically higher than in the past.

A big difference this year is that we have stopped lecturing at them almost entirely.
 Instead, we organized and posted the foundational knowledge content on-line. I've been reading Susan Ambrose's book "How Learning Works." (I highly recommend it!). This book has helped me to see how I need to structure the content and build in guides and guideposts so that students could self-assess their learning. To be frank, the computer can only serve to test lower levels of knowledge.  But proficiency with these terms gives them the confidence to continue learning.

Anyway, we shared our observations of their performance with them. They were strangely silent and attentive. When we asked why were so engaged, there was an explosion of feedback: They feel they have been given direction, yet autonomy to choose and follow their own interests, to ask their own questions.

1 comment:

  1. I am wondering, after reading the post, how much of the student reaction to increased independence and higher expectations comes from the team-teaching approach. Does the fact that there are two (or more) instructors emphasize the idea of a community of learners and de-emphasize a more hierarchical structure. I would imagine hearing two instructors addressing topics in different (but not incompatible) ways could reinforce the idea that the learning each student does can be somewhat distinctive rather than simply a regurgitation.