Active Learning Can Narrow the Achievement Gap

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Our office promotes innovation in higher education and encourages professors to try out new methods of active learning in their classrooms. Instead of always lecturing to students who spend the class time taking notes, we support team learning, debates, role-playing and working with community partners. We have seen students at the University of Baltimore respond with enthusiasm to these active approaches to instruction, and now data backs up these practices.

A recent study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has shown that this type of instruction is particularly effective for first-generation college students and students of color. Kelly Hogan, a professor of an introductory biology course, taught her 400-person sections in different ways over the course of six terms. She gave traditional lectures in three terms, and then switched things up. In three terms instead of lecturing,  she included team work in class and assigned for homework on-line activities that encouraged collaboration outside of class. She found that all the students who were in the more active classes were much more likely to come to class having done the reading, mainly because the lectures were not simply her overview of their reading assignments. Test scores for the whole class rose 3 percent.

In addition, Hogan’s active approach to instruction narrowed the achievement gap. Among first-generation students and black students, scores went up six percent. That rise halved the disparity between test scores of black students compared to whites and completely eliminated the distance between first  generation students and the rest of the class.

The New York Times published a story on the study just as the new school year was beginning: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/education/active-learning-study.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3As%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A5%22%7D&_r=0.

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University of Baltimore Experiential Learning Project of The Month

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“Being allowed to have this opportunity has helped me change my negative views towards those who are incarcerated.”

2014AC

Dr. Andrea Cantora

Course: Contemporary Corrections

The course included a 5-week pilot of the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an opportunity for a small group of students from University of Baltimore and group of residents of the Jessup Correctional Institution to exchange ideas and perceptions about crime, corrections, and the reentry process.

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Take note of this interesting data

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laptops in classroomsThe June issue of Psychological Science included a study of the use of laptops in classrooms and examined whether note taking was best done with the pen or the keyboard.

Laptops have always raised the ire of faculty. Competing against Facebook and Pinterest is humbling when you’re standing in the front of the room. We know that students want good grades and see the laptop as a self-destructive distraction to their own success. Even those who are actually taking notes may not be as productive as those who are writing down their notes.

This study provides initial experimental evidence that laptops may harm academic performance even when used as intended. Participants using laptops are more likely to take lengthier transcription-like notes with greater verbatim overlap with the lecture. Although taking more notes, thereby having more information, is beneficial, mindless transcription seems to offset the benefit of the increased content, at least when there is no opportunity for review.  (Mueller & Oppenheimer)

Synthesizing and summarizing ideas instead of trying to capture every word can translate to more knowledge retained. What do you do with laptops in your classroom?

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The “Making” Process

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Audubon Bird Habitat in LS Planting Team

I’ve always had a passion for volunteering, but living in Charm City has completely challenged my previous concept of volunteerism. Serving a community is not equal to being a member of a community. There is no motivation like realizing your well-being relies on positive change and that you are going to have to play a leading role to make it happen.

Exposition: I bought my first home in a neighborhood that had hundreds of boarded up houses, five on my block alone. To give you a clear image, HBO’s The Wire filmed location shots in my community. I’ve also had a front-row ticket to more than a few crime scene investigations. I bought what I could afford. In 2005 the price tag was steep to live amidst crime and grime, but much more expensive even just a block south so the potential return on investment made the short-term discomfort seem worth it. Many other new homeowners had the same thought; crime and grime were on the decline and development, quality of life, and property values were on a steady and dramatic upswing.

Then the unthinkable happened, all progress stopped dead during the 2008 economic bust and our up-and-coming community was on dangerous footing. Things got bad again, worse even, and morale began to fail. To add insult to injury, those that bought into the dream were stuck in a nightmare of negative equity. Most wanted out, myself included, but couldn’t leave and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. You know, the saying, “bloom where you are planted?” Cliché as it may be, it is one-hundred percent true. I and other community members became leaders, dedicated to making our streets more clean, green, safe and vibrant. Amid countless meetings, collaborations, clean-ups, 311 calls, tree plantings, and activities to engage neighbors, there is undeniable improvement.

Because I live adjacent to a public square and focus much of my effort on its revitalization, I unintentionally have become a citizen placemaker. Rooted in community-based participation, “placemaking  is an innovative approach to transforming communities by creating and revitalizing open, public spaces around the needs and desires of the community.” My academic background in community studies certainly provided a solid foundation (thank you, UB), but nothing can prepare one for the complexity of trying to transform a physical place with the long-term goal of connecting a somewhat fragmented community. It’s a unique challenge and there is no singular solution. It has to be an integrative approach that offers meaningful opportunities for people to deliberate, disagree, cooperate and execute along the way.

Just as we strive for cross-disciplinary collaborations in higher education, those dedicated to community development strive for the same. It is the process of ongoing engagement and inclusion, a grass roots approach that “builds connections, creates civic engagement, and empowers citizens—in short, it builds social capital.” Social capital builds community and community builds place. Obviously, we need to involve professionals, but the narrow fields of expertise often lack the awareness of context and consequence on a broad scale. Not to mention that comprehensive and sustainable success requires community support. To gain backing, the public needs to be meaningfully engaged in the “making” process.

I cannot be more thrilled that the importance of the “making” process in benefiting relationships and place was recognized in a recent white paper, Places in the Making by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The white paper challenges the idea of the expert and argues for the significance of mutual stewardship between community and place –named the “virtuous cycle of placemaking” – as a vital component, rather than a fuzzy extra. As the University of Baltimore continues to define its role as an anchor institution committed to being a regional steward, let’s strive to continually keep one theory front and center.
It takes place to create community and community to create place.

 

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Blueprint for Tomorrow

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http://www.fieldingnair.com/Publications/The%20Classroom%20is%20Obsolete%20-%20Ed%20Week.pdf

Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning by Prakash Nair (http://www.fieldingnair.com/index.php/news/)will be release this upcoming October. To get a better idea regarding the theme of this book I found a commentary by Prakash Nair in Education Week (July 2011). Nair’s basic argument is that the traditional classroom setting is an obsolete relic of the industrial revolution. This position is not a new or revolutionary claim, but a message that seems to need to be repeated because most colleges and universities seem to just keep constructing buildings that merely reinforce an obsolete paradigm that will not prepare students for real world challenges. The dominant pedagogy still adheres to a lecture based system. Nair makes the claim that educators can try to be more efficient in this type of content delivery, but that does not necessarily translate into effective learning. Standardizing curriculum does not necessarily create autonomous learners that can critically think and articulate their ideas. What I like about the article is that it does not present an either/or fallacy regarding classroom space, but instead challenges the reader to rethink how time and space intertwines with past and present experiences. For example, in the 21st century we seem to be trapped in thinking that learning needs to adhere to arbitrary fixed patterns of time in particular spaces, whereas we ought to think about the real purpose of education.

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A Bridge to Belize – Experiential Learning

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Tricia Sindel-Arrington, Ph.D.

A Bridge to Belize – Almost as Good as a Magic School Bus
John Dewey has been noted as saying, “There is a need of forming a theory of experience in order that education may be intelligently conducted upon the basis of experience.” Recent efforts to improve higher education have focused on improving the learning process in education through the application of research. One focus of the current research is the concept of experiential learning. Experiential learning is often misunderstood as a set of tools and techniques to provide learners with experiences from which they can learn. Others have used the term to describe learning as a mindless recording of experience. Yet experiential learning is above all a philosophy of education based upon what Dewey called a “theory of experience,” (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). He argued that while traditional education had little need for theory since practice was determined by tradition, the new experiential approach to education needed a sound theory of experience to guide its conduct. Experiential learning draws on the work of 20th century scholars, such as, Dewey, Lewin, Jung, Piaget, James, Rogers, etc., who gave experience a central role in their theories of human learning and development.
According to Kolb and Kolb (2005), the theory is built upon six propositions: 1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes; 2. All learning is relearning; 3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world; 4. Learning is a holistically process of adaptation to the world; 5. Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment; 6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge. Therefore, experiential learning theory defines learning as the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Kolb and Kolb (2005) noted that knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience. This process of learning can be portrayed through an idealized learning cycle where learners experience, reflect, think and act in a recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learned.
The enhancement of learning in higher education can be achieved through the creation of learning spaces that promote growth-producing experiences for learners. According to Dewey, the central problem of an education based on experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences. To learn experientially, learners must first own and value their own experience (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Therefore, the effective teacher builds on the exploration of what students already know and believe. Beginning with these or related concrete experiences allows the learner to re-examine and modify their previous sense making in light of the new ideas.
To learn also requires facing and embracing differences. These differences can be challenging and threatening, requiring a learning space that encourages the expression of differences and the safety to support the learner in facing these new challenges. People grow best where they experience a blend of challenge and support.
One interesting view of experiential learning is what Wassermann (1992) calls “serious play.” She describes serious play as creative and inventive activities that promote autonomy and a spirit of adventure, and that achieve mental engagement through active involvement with the physical world. Serious play is built on experience, and is inextricably linked to it. Wassermann believes that learners of all ages create meaning through serious play (Harkins, 2000). The goal of education is to prepare students for the future. A curriculum that places its greatest emphasis on abstract paper and pencil tasks will not provide them an adequate preparation. What students need is to develop work-readiness skills through the integration of knowledge acquisition and its practical application, a process that should start in the early grades. An education that will effectively prepare young people for future careers is one that connects the world of childhood play and the adult workplace within the context of experiential learning. Experiential tasks build higher-order thought patterns by providing data for knowledge assimilation and the accommodation of cognitive structures.
The Bridge to Belize study abroad program embodies the essential elements necessary for students to have a rich learning experience. The program is a perfect example of experiential learning. Commonly, most college classes task students to work in isolation, often completing assignments that have little relation to their daily lives and pursuing academic disciplines that are ends unto themselves. Most professors only ask their students to regurgitate information from an expensive text instead of making their course alive and rich with experience opportunities. In the Bridge to Belize, novels and academic articles were used as a springboard for learning. Students were asked not only to understand and dissect the reading, but to analyze, reflect, and discuss with teams of classmates. Safe, conversational spaces were created throughout the course where students could benefit enormously. Students were more engaged, became far better prepared, and learned significantly more because they shared not only their ideas, but also listened and connected with others throughout multiple spaces created for reflection. Students were asked to engage through Facebook, Skype, bus rides, and outdoor meeting spaces as a means of conversational safe places where each person had an opportunity to share and feel validated.
Important terms and key concepts were learned through reading, discussion, experiences, observations, and travel. In a traditional class, students read a boring text filled with vocabulary (pertinent concepts and terms necessary to learn the curriculum). Usually, they are then tasked with memorizing the terms in order to answer multiple choice test questions. Unfortunately, a week later, the students will have most likely forgotten the terms entirely because no meaning was ever made with the terms. The students were learning in isolation without the means of experiencing the concepts. They did not have the opportunity to connect the class concepts with real life or to make connections with other subjects or experiences. Dr. James Gee notes that students must first “play the game,” then they can make sense of the vocabulary or concepts associated with the textbook (2007). In order for the students in the Bridge to Belize course to make meaning they had to “play the game.” The group traveled to Belize whereupon they were immersed in the culture and landscape. Activities which showcased the different ecosystems, culture, and history of the country further helped students to experience everything they had read and discussed before leaving for Belize. Afterwards, not only did the students have a thorough understanding of the concepts, but they were able to apply the ideas to their own lives. Learners were able to transfer the interpreted experiences and explanations of other people, including both peers and experts in the field. This social interaction, as well as, mentoring from more advanced learners was important. The debriefing further continued their meaning making. Students were constantly challenged to think and rethink their previous and new beliefs.
Team building was acutely important for students to make meaning of their learning while experiencing Belize. The course required students to work in teams, whereupon they were necessitated to apply their newfound knowledge in learning tasks, which either required students to teach the entire class or to conduct an actual evaluation of the conservation and sustainability of their lodging. These types of student learning teams have proven to be highly effectively. For example, in a study of student learning at Harvard, Richard Light (2001) found specifically that students, who work outside of class in small groups of four to six, even just once a week, benefit enormously. When meetings are organized around discussions of the curriculum, as a result those students are far more engaged, far better prepared, and learn significantly more (Kayes, Kayes, & Kolb, 2005).
The Bridge to Belize course serves as a real-life model of a successful experiential learning course. Not only did it encompass the required elements needed to create a positive learning experience for students, but it further validates that educators need to rethink their lecture formatted courses where a textbook serves as the hallmark of the class. If the goal of a college education is to create well-rounded, open minded critical thinkers who are prepared to work with teams in the workplace, then more experiential learning courses should be constructed.

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A Bridge to Belize 2014

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canoe2014

As the Experiential Learning Program Manager at the University of Baltimore, I sometimes find myself thinking how odd it is that I now spend most of my days wearing a button down shirt, dress pants, and sometimes a tie and/or jacket in order to work in an office and attend meetings. It is a far cry from my days of wearing short pants, boots, and a t-shirt and taking students out to the Chandler Gilbert Community College Environmental Technology Center to learn about sustainability and environmental ethics. I think that is why this year the Bridge to Belize study abroad tended to take on more of a personal meaning. I felt back at home working with my Belizean friends to teach students about sustainability and cultural diversity by exploring caves, climbing ruins, visiting gardens and snorkeling coral reefs. It was exciting to watch University of Baltimore students experiencing a number of firsts while studying in Belize. A first trip to Central America, horseback ride through the rainforest, snorkeling at Laughing Bird Caye, and so on. Opportunities that served as prefect trigger mechanisms to better understand the theoretical concepts such as being a responsible traveller, respecting other cultures and the importance of ecological preservation. I have written qualitative research papers demonstrating the transformational process of experiential learning, although the actual experience of observing students getting excited about active learning is so much more rewarding. It was nice getting out of the office…

 

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A Bridge to Belize 2014 – Mountain Equestrian Trails

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A Bridge to Belize 2014 – Mountain Equestrian Trails

Horse Back Riding and Biological Diversity

Horse back riding is just as much as a rite of passage in Belize as a teenager learning how to drive in the US. Though horse back riding in the States consist of jumping on the back of a horse and going around a man made forest in circles, Belize’s definition of riding a horse consists of maneuvering a huge creature through jungle terrain. Seeing as I have never rode a horse in my life, I was terrified of engaging in this experience. Their large size and massive leg power have always intimidated me. When I got onto Sota (my horse), he instantly felt my tense nature and proceeded to show me that he was expert. I literally was riding Sota as he gently walked and trotted with pride. One of the many ways that this riding lesson differed than the typical US horseback riding sessions is that we had to guide our horses up and down hills. The trails were not well defined, pretty much covered in both poisonous, as well as medicinal plants. The biological diversity between the plants and animals that call the forest their home is evidently visible. Everything in the forest works together in order to get what it needs. For instance, our guide was telling us about a symbiotic relationship between a special kind of ant and plant. This plant provides the ant with shelter and food and in turn, the ant will sacrifice its life in order to protect the plant from predators. This symbiotic relationship should not only apply to plant and animal relationships but to human interactions. The more we help each other out the more we get out of life.

Tkeyah Lake

2014 Graduate

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A Bridge to Belize 2014

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A Bridge to Belize 2014 - Actun Tunichil Muknal

“Make sure you have no cameras or anything else that would hinder you from using your hands today,” the tour guide told us. Reflecting on the day I am really glad I didn’t even carry a water bottle because boy did I need my hands! After a 1.4 mile jungle hike with three rivers along the way we got to the real adventure… the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal. From the moment you strap the flashlight to your helmet the “real” adventure begun.

Our tour guide Emil was not only a native Belizean, but a walking encyclopedia of Mayan and archeological knowledge. He guided the group through some of the smallest and amazing crevasses of the cave with ease and grace as he explained the rich history every inch of the way. What was interesting about the tour was that as we rose up to higher levels of the cave we were beginning to gain a deeper understanding of the Mayans ideology behind their practices. As in most ancient Mezzo-American societies the Mayans believed in many different gods. Based on archeological evidence it is believed that the higher up in the cave one would go the closer they thought to be to their gods.

I believe that being able to go and experience and climb and explore in the pitch-black cave as the Mayans did was very eye opening and really allowed me to be fully immersed in the culture. As I now constantly strive to be less ethnocentric it was important for me to put the practices of the Maya people in the cave into another perspective; in relation to my religion now and where I would go to worship my God. Seeing the pottery and the skeletal remains of past sacrifices performed by Mayans and listening as Emil shed some light on the different theories of their collapse allowed for an experience mentally I can never forget.

Taylor Peck

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Belize 2014

Belize 2014

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