Creating Effective Learning Environments

THE CERTIFICATION IN COLLEGE TEACHING OFFERED AT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, seeks to build teaching competency in five areas. personal reflections follow.
Description

Instructors’ responsibilities extend beyond content transmission – creating effective learning environments is critical to engaging students in learning. Consideration of prior knowledge, diversity, student motivation, and communication skills all play a role. Informed by active learning and classroom management strategies, effective instructors create environments where student learning may be cultivated. It’s challenging and takes practice to set a consistent tone for a course, where students are engaged in discovery, practice, and ask for and obtain meaningful feedback.

Sources

Summer 2017 Certification in College Teaching Institute, Workshop on Creating Effective Learning Environments by Bennett Goldberg

Artifacts and Rationales

My notes and materials on Creating Effective Learning Environments from 2017 Certification in College Teaching Institute cover several discussions which focused on creating an environment where students create their own knowledge, including:

  • Flipped Classrooms
    • Students’ first exposure to content is before class time, therefore during class there is time for practice and feedback. Traditional classrooms use class time to present content to students, practice is done outside of class, and feedback is limited to office hours or after class.
    • Allowing time for practice and feedback in the presence of the content expert (instructor) gives students significant responsibility but also prioritizes addressing misconceptions, which students may encounter during practice. Establishing an environment where students are expected to prepare for class and bring questions with them is one way to create a space for effective learning.
  • Engaging students using Clicker Questions
    • Clicker questions are useful as both a formative assessment and a tool for encouraging student participation.
    • Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to write good clicker questions aimed at the level of mastery one intends for one’s students.
  • Peer Instruction is one other tool for student engagement, drawing upon teamwork to engage students with or without clickers.

The modifications I made to the CEM 355 syllabus and experiment manual for my mentored teaching project focused on giving students guidance on how to prepare for class, as well as structured support for drawing conclusions from data after class. In this way, laboratory students were required to come to class prepared to complete the experiment, practiced and received feedback during class, and analyzed the data themselves after class.

Reflection

I learned new skills and techniques for engaging students in the classroom, including different online clicker tools, using Bloom’s Taxonomy to plan what types of questions to ask students, and using peer instruction. Genuinely engaging students in learning is a challenge, but the advice, practice, and experience of this workshop will certainly help me grow as an educator. I appreciated thinking about reframing the role of the instructor in a flipped classroom, from a source of information to a curator of information.

Overall, I’ve learned that it’s important to establish a classroom attitude and environment that places students in charge of their own education from the beginning of the course, and to remain consistent with that. Preparing to be an effective, organized, and consistent educator will certainly take practice, and is something I’m further investigating. In the future, I will practice and obtain feedback from my own mentors in this area, as well as plan ahead and assess not only my students’ learning, but also my ability to create an effective learning environment.

OMC Fall 2018