TEAL Session (Part 1): Instructor and TA Experiences teaching in a TEAL Room

This was a two part session. Part 1: "What is it like to teach in a TEAL room?" was led by Prof. Sanja Hinić-Frlog (Ornithology Course) and Prof. Christoph Richter (Stats Course). For part 2, please visit Part 2: "What was it like to TA in a TEAL room?" This session took place on November 29, 2017 in the SF 3201.

One of the items of feedback that we heard in our last session was that everyone was looking for some practical examples of teaching in an active learning classroom. Loosely, the questions that we wanted to discuss were:

  1. How does teaching in an active classroom change the workload, both for instructors preparing as well as for students taking the class?
  2. Which activities worked and which did not?
  3. Is there a resource for inspiration for different types for active learning activities? (aka where did you get your ideas?)

PART 1: What is it like to teach in a TEAL room?

The Instructors attempting to answer a few of these very open ended and subjective questions were two guests from UTM: Prof. Sanja Hinić-Frlog (Ornithology Course) and Prof. Christoph Richter (Stats Course). Both have experience teaching in the active learning classrooms at UTM. One of Sanja's first observations were regarding how different our prototype TEAL room was from the one she was used to teaching in. Notable differences included that the teaching station was located in the middle of the room (versus ours, which is at the "front") and that the tables were located closer to and beside the screens.

Both professors mentioned examples that they've used in their classrooms:

  • Ornithology Course Example 1: In groups, students participated in a gamified bird identification activity, wherein they worked as a group to identify a bird by either their sound or a visual cue. This activity was implemented to address the large amount of information requried for students to memorize. By encouraging some friendly competition, the effort of memorizing the birds was less passive and more active. Sanja also rotated the screens so that groups were exposed to multiple examples.
  • Ornithology Course Example 2: A second example of gamifying was using "catchphrase" - students had to describe a bird in three terms and have other students guess the correct species. This allowed them to think about what descriptors they were using and what was unique about each species.
  • Statistics Course Example 1: In groups, students were tasked with detailing the process to use when doing regression statistics. After some time to create a list, they would bring this back to the class and then, as a larger group, they created a more definitive list. Christoph mentioned that this list was right on the list that he would have created, but by allowing the students to think about how they would do the process, and to justify the steps, students got more out of the lesson than if it was handed to them. (Note: The time allowed for an activity like this would be about 35 minutes.)
  • Statistics Course Example 2: Students were given a quiz that was completed individually. After this was handed in, the students were grouped and were assigned a question from the quiz to work on as a group. The students could then re-submit that question for grading. This group response could not subtract grades, could only improve the student's mark.

My note taking for this session was not perfect, but some key points that I wrote down from this presentation were:

  1. You have to let go of the idea that you are going to teach the way you think you will teach. In a traditional lecture class, you have some control, via the number of slides, the time you allow per concept, etc.
  2. In an active learning classroom, you must trust that the activities that you'd designed, combined with some "lecturettes" will cover the curriculum needed to meet your learning outcomes. (Both instructors maintain that they cover the same amount of content in an active learning classroom as they did in a traditional classroom).
  3. Switching to an active learning classroom is easier when you already have some active elements. (Which means that you don't have to wait until you are in a TEAL room to start active learning.)

Sanja also mentioned the value of the Course Design Institute, offered through CTSI. This is something that might be of interest to those of you who are re-designing a course. The information for 2018 has not yet been posted but you can review the 2017 information. You might also be interested in the teaching recources published on the CTSI website.

Resources mentioned in this presentation:

Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty

by Elizabeth F. Barkley   Keeping students involved, motivated, and actively learning is challenging educators across the country,yet good advice on how to accomplish this has not been readily available. Student Engagement Techniques is a comprehensive resource that offers college teachers a dynamic model for engaging students and includes over one hundred tips, strategies, and techniques that have been proven to help teachers from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions motivate and connect with their students. The ready-to-use format shows how to apply each of the book's techniques in the classroom and includes purpose, preparation, procedures, examples, online implementation, variations and extensions, observations and advice, and key resources.  
Access via U of T Libraries Buy on Amazon

Green Guide # 2 Active Learning
by Beverly Cameron

In this guide, Beverly Cameron deals with one of the most important and challenging issues in university teaching: how to make learning a more active process. Based on many years experience as a teacher and educational developer, Dr. Cameron offers a wealth of practical strategies for promoting active learning and shows such methods can promote critical thinking and reflection.  

Buy via the Western University Bookstore