The following question was raised by Penelope Doob on another list. I thought it would be appropriate to share it with this list and perhaps generate some additional discussion on this topic. Ted Panitz firstname.lastname@example.org
Penelope Doob asks about evaluations dropping when one starts using CL. Penelope Reed Doob, Academic Director, CST TEL: (Office) (416) 736-5754 (Home) 465-8845 pdoob@yorkvm2 FAX: (Office) 416-736-5704 (Home) 416-465-2695
<<<I'm interested in learning whether there are any good studies casting light on the not infrequent anecdotal report that teaching evaluations by students may drop somewhat when collaborative learning techniques and various kinds of group work are employed/ required in situations where students have little, or no, or bad prior experience working in such a way.>>>
<<Does this happen often enough to constitute a problem? Do the effects tend to wash out by the end of a course? if there's a problem, has anyone devised appropriate means of controlling for it (e.g., comparing students who've used collaborative learning before vs. those who haven't in any analysis and interpretation)? could one reassure a young faculty member who wants to try to use collaborative learning strategies that student evaluations might appear to drop for a while but would then likely rise, assuming that the course is indeed well designed and that the strategies employed are in fact contributing to effective student learning? Thanks for any insights you can provide.>>>>
I found this to be the case in the first semester I started using group learning extensively. I had previously used interactive lectures, discussions and asking students to work problems on the board in math classes. I started using groups and insisting more that the groups try to resolve their questions prior to my explaining a solution methodology. They did not always understand my good intentions and interest in helping them learn to think critically about a difficult subject. They wanted me to simply tell them how to do it. I know that doesn't work. They would tell me after a lecture that everything made sense until they went home and found they couldn't do the work on their own.I stuck tomy procedures and they began to learn how to study math and they enjoyed working with others and talking and even arguing about how to solve math problems (something they had never done before). However they still felt I was not teaching the way I should i.e. giving them information. In the next semester I started a virtual campaign to inform them abouit CL and its benefits and why I use certain procedures such as warmup exercizes and group building activities etc. I also did a lot of cheerleading about the process and heralded every success and student break through caused by CL techniques. This worked wonders. My evaluations skyrocketed from good ones (4.3-4.5 out of 5 to 4.8 to 4.9's). My suggestion to anyone starting to use or expanding their use of CL is to make a extroadinary effort to explain what and why you are doing what you do and the outcome you expect and then trumpet the positive effects as they occur. This is a new approach for most students and changer brings discomfort. You can allay their fears by communicating with them virtaully every day. I give them articles from journals and magazines and from newspapers, I use the seven principles of good teaching from the Wingspread Journel and ask them to analyse it and suggest ways we can use the principles in algebra classes. That helps them to focus on the concepts of CL and begin to appreciate the reasoning behind it. They appreciate my attempts to communicate with them. Finally I listen to their suggestions about how to run the class which is a very important advantage of CL over the lecture method. It also helps to be confident in your use of CL and not be disuaded from using it as some students will try to do. The result of this effort is that I get excellent student results. They actually start enjoying algebra and tell me that my classes are their favorite ones because they are so active in class. This has created a very strong reputation on campus for my courses and now students expect that they will have a great course, so I need to explain myself a little less defensively than I used to. I still make a major effort to share my interests in CL with them all the time. Something else that occurs to me is that when I return from a conference with a new idea or technique I explain where I got it and how I wouldlike to use it and that I am just as much a student when it comes to CL as they are. They do appreciate the fact that I am making an extra effort on their behalf by attending conferences on my own time. There is very little doubt left in their minds that I am working hard to help them succeed.
Ted Panitz email@example.com
Date: Fri, 03 Nov 1995 18:35:06 -0500 From: Louis Schmier <lschmier@GRITS.VALDOSTA.PEACHNET.EDU> Subject: Re: Collab. learning and evaluations In-reply-to: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Sender: "Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <STLHE-L@unb.ca>
Penelope: I don't know of any particular studies that answer your question. But, from my personal experience, my student evaluations soared, drop-out rates plummeted almost immediately. But, you have to realize that students cling to the conventional pedagogy because it, too, gives them security. When a prof tries to share the power, to give students more responsibility for their own learning, they get cynical and scared. They complain that the prof is not earning his pay. When they are invited into a more creative active role, they prefer to run. They prefer the line of least resistance and have their learning boxed and tied and presented. So, students are, and permit themselves to be, lined up, counted, organized and owned. And, professors gladly do it. Students are threatened by an open invitation to learn for themselves and to help each other learn; they would much rather have their learning packaged and sold by the prof. They are threatend by newness and strangeness, of having to expose their ignorance, by having to relate to their peers in ways they would not outside the classroom, by the possibility of failure that would mar their image, self-esteem, career. These fears are not deeply hidden; they are at the surface.
Louis Schmier (912-333-5947)
Date: Fri, 03 Nov 1995 21:24:22 -0400 From: Karen McComas <mccomas@MARSHALL.EDU> Subject: Re: Collab. learning and evaluations Sender: "Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <STLHE-L@unb.ca>
My personal experience with student evaluations has been interesting. First of all, our department has always had every class complete the same evaluation form and then provide the students with the opportunity to write comments. In the past, getting any written comments was rare. The quantitative portion of my evaluations has always been strong. This didn't change. What did change was that almost 100% of the students provided written feedback which has been invaluable in aiding me in making modifications where and when necessary. The majority of the students made comments relating to the fact that they didn't always understand how the course activities were going to assist them with learning the course material, it was only near the end of the semester that they realized how *much* they had learned. In addition, the majority express their delight in having the opportunity to discover that they can think. Finally, when students provide constructive criticism in these written comments, they almost always suggest a solution...and some of these have been very successful in subsequent offerings of the course.
If you are feeling uncomfortable, and uncertain, hang in there. You might even share this with your students because they think that they are the only ones that feel uncomfortable and uncertain. I can assure you that you will not regret your new teaching style...the only thing that you might regret is having waited so long to change.