Sunday, 26 July 2015

Mind the Gap III: Assessing students' development from novice to expert

Kimberly Tanner's 3rd workshop in the Mind the Gap series considered how we assess students developing level of expertise. This one dealt with similar issues I have read before in Ambrose et al (2010) and what Smith (1998) suggested: novices do not connect their knowledge and focus on superficial features when trying to make sense of new experiences and learning. Kimberly's research shows this using card sorting exercises. Experts in a field will sort/connect features which are not immediately apparent but have deeper meaning/significance to the task or material at hand. In contrast, novices sort/organize according to what they can immediately see/sense/understand. This makes sense of course because novices are still learning the underlying features/connections/significance/meaning of what they are learning - they don't yet know what the connections are. Educators need to lead students to make these connections to produce a robust knowledge structure that is able to be applied to new situations. An interconnected knowledge structure is robust in the sense that it can be applied in new unexpected situations. It enables creativity of problem solving. We need to facilitate students' creation of their own interconnected knowledge structure. This is a constructivist approach to learning. I think this is what students are craving when they feel as if they are set adrift in my active learning classes. They are wishing to have me model how to make the interconnections. The balance in good teaching and learning is to have knowledge construction both modeled and enabled for our students. We have to show them how we organize our interconnected knowledge structure plus support them in students' own attempts/practice at organizing their own knowledge.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010a). How does the way students organize knowledge affect their learning? In How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (pp. 40–65). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Smith, B. L. (1998). Curricular structures for cumulative learning. In J. N. Gardner, G. Van der Veer, & Associates (Eds.), The Senior Year Experience: Facilitating Integration, Reflection, Closure, and Transition (pp. 81–94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.

Monday, 20 July 2015

sources of student resistance to active learning

This article from by Seidel and Tanner in CBE-LSE is an interesting analysis of research into student resistance over the use or introduction of innovative  teaching strategies (i.e. active learning). Seems that it is not resistance to the active learning strategy itself but rather barriers that may develop as a result of instructors struggling to implement the strategy. These barriers may include unintentional actions on the part of the instructor such as being late to class, or not having instructional materials adequately prepared for class. Students take this as an indication of the quality of the learning strategy itself rather than the quality of its implementation.

Some techniques to alleviate student barriers to innovative teaching:
  1. Explain why using a particular strategy at the start and at different times throughout the course. 
  2. Share the research with students that illustrates its efficacy. 
  3. Structure the course such that inter-student interactions are thought by students to be fair. For example, provide a mechanism for peer evaluation. 
  4. Instructors need to be present to students. Ensure that your interactions with students inside and outside the classroom are affirming, genuine and occur on a daily basis. Don't hide behind the lecture podium. 
  5. Make marking and grading transparent by, for example, providing the markng rubric at the time an assignment is assigned or when an exam is returned. 
  6. Vary the instructional strategies used throughout the term to appeal to a wider cross-section of students.
The article also provides some suggestions for how to deal with student resistance when it does arise.


Seidel, S.B. and Tanner, K D. (2013). “What if students revolt?”—Considering student resistance: origins, options and opportunities for investigation. Cell Biology Education—Life Sciences Education, 12 (Winter), 586-595.