What made a 24-year veteran of the Gettysburg College faculty decide to try a completely new teaching style?
“There’s been a lot of research done on physics education over the years, and the findings have shown that lecture is not always the most effective form of teaching. Having an active classroom is key,” physics Prof. Tim Good said.
For a decade now, members of the physics department have been taking steps toward more active learning by encouraging group work and spending time with small numbers of students in lab or office hours.
“Working closely with students is why I wanted to come to Gettysburg. When I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work closely with faculty members and get involved in their research. I wanted to give Gettysburg students that same opportunity.” Good said.
A little over a year ago, Good would adjust his teaching approach once again, taking a major step toward an active classroom when Ron Smith ’72 recommended that a physics faculty member attend a workshop on blended learning, which combines classroom and online education.
Good attended the workshop. As one presenter talked about his use of the flipped classroom, a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures at home, and what used to be homework is done in class with teachers offering more personalized guidance, Good immediately knew the model would fit his own teaching style perfectly.
Smith and Good’s paths recently intersected once more, as Good was named the inaugural Dr. Ronald J. Smith ’72 Professor of Applied Physics. Good’s endowed professorship will help facilitate his ongoing development of innovative teaching methods, including his recent efforts to use technology to enhance student learning.
Good piloted his “Gettysburg style” flipped classroom during the Fall 2013 semester with the 11 students in his Intermediate Physics class, which focuses on electricity and magnetism, and is a requirement for all sophomore physics majors.
Now, when students come to class, there is no lecture. Instead, he produces an online lecture (including web resources, animations, Good’s spoken audio track, and more), which students view before coming to class.
When they arrive in the classroom, students break into small groups and collaborate to solve what used to be the homework problems.
Good notes that during class, he is largely an observer. The students work through the problems, learning from one another, and he is there to help if a group gets stuck.
“For physics, it is really important to have a good understanding of the problems. I found it so helpful to work through the problems with other students,” said Tessa Thorsen ’16, a physics and math major. “Plus, being up at the board working through problems gave us no opportunity to zone out. We got a lot out of the class.”
One of Good’s key motivators for trying the flipped classroom approach was for his students to learn to think and speak on their feet.
Madison Hill ’16, a physics and math major agrees, “Each day we got to class and we were working with a new group. Some days we were the one presenting the solution to the rest of the class and others, we were recording the problem and solution in its entirety for future review. Those things forced us out of our comfort zones, and meant we had no choice but to understand the material well.”
Another benefit, added Andre Hinds ’16, a physics major and math minor, was that studying for quizzes and exams was much easier with the flipped model, as the lectures and class problems were all online and easily accessible for review. Hill also said he felt that he had more time to go back and read the textbook, as he was not spending a lot of time outside of class trying to work through problems.
Being a scientist himself, Good wanted to measure the success of his new teaching style. He noticed significant learning gains throughout the course of the class during the 2013 fall semester.
Additionally, when compared to the last time he taught the Intermediate Physics course with similar material and problems four years prior, the 2013 class’ quiz and exam grades were much better and class averages went way up. In fact, the lowest scores in the 2013 class were higher than class averages in previous years.
With a few minor tweaks, Good will use a flipped classroom model once again during the 2014-15 academic year with his Intermediate Physics class – this time with 16 students.
But, he’s not the only one trying a new teaching approach. Several colleagues in the sciences are working toward a more active classroom, including fellow physics Prof. Kurt Andresen, who, in some of his introductory courses, has students focus on problem solving in class and watch lectures from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or read the textbook beforehand.
“Lectures are too easy. Watching a lecture is like watching TV. Very little effort involved,” said Andresen. “Doing a problem on the board or with a classmate is difficult. It hurts your brain. When you feel like your brain is lifting a ton of weights, that’s when you are actually learning. You are actively making new connections or changing old ones so that you can see the world in the correct way. That’s how we learn!”
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Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
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Posted: Mon, 11 Aug 2014
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