We interviewed our two brave explorers last week as they shed light on some of the things they do to win their daily Battle Against Boredom in class. However, like all good reporters, I was skeptical. I had heard enough tall tales around campfires. And, like all good explorers, they have more than stories to share.
Other than the quantitative measures like LETs improving by ~15% across all segments, Mauricio and Murray also conducted focus groups with students to get a better understanding of how they actually felt about their active classes.
The snapshot here of a word cloud gives you a representation of what came up in the focus groups most often. It is good to see that most of the words are positive, and active words like ‘activities,’ ‘discuss,’ and ‘engaging,’ ‘participate,’ feature prominently. Though it does seem like there were quite a few chuckles too (and we can only hope that they weren’t in the same context as ‘awkward.’)
In an attempt to keep the focus groups unbiased, these focus groups were conducted by a research assistant. As I pored over the pages of transcripts, evidence emerged pretty quickly that my skepticism was uncalled for. There seemed to be a lot of evidence of the good work being done by the duo. There were some improvement ideas, but we’ll cover them later.
Engagement and Participation seemed to be very popular themes in the discussion, as is evident from the word cloud above. Some of the comments that came up were “…(with) the sticky notes – I have to say like 70% of the class is participating, answering questions.” However, another student sums it up nicely “Because it’s so engaging on different platforms like different music, videos, the activities, the socrative. It kind of keeps you on your toes. It’s not just watching the lecture, listening to him, and getting through the two hours. You are engaged through the two hours…”
However, there’s more to active learning than keeping the students happy and engaged. The bigger question for me was “Do these activities help with the conceptual understanding?”
And this student answered it for me – “…You go back home and you need to go through it again. But this one, because he uses a lot of worldly examples, and they really stick in your mind. …”
For instance, this example is a great demonstration of the simple things that go a long way – “Last week, he asked us to write the steps to make tea. You write five steps. He would ask, “Did anyone add milk in the tea as well?” So that shows a difference, and then we know that different people will have different process to do one thing. So different organisation will have process—“
Some of the other ideas that were touched on were self-reflection and a sense of belonging. And as we encourage our students to become critical thinkers, its activities like these that go a long way. “…when I start off, I think, this is definitely the answer. It seems quite clear. But when I talk to the person sitting next to me and they have a different point of view, it makes you think, “Oh well, actually, that might be right as well.” So it gives you that different perspective.
Engagement, for instance, does not seem to be the same for everyone, and its motivation – of a different kind. “It’s motivating in a sense, a bit of fear, I guess. But you don’t want to be called out and not know the answer…” Similarly, some students seem to fail to see the connections between these activities and the course content. “I don’t think it’s very relevant in learning but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the music. But I don’t think it’s helpful.” Contradictorily, another students quips,” I try to think about what topic it is and I think about the song and I’m like, “How does it link?”
In a similar vein, the students some times don’t understand the value of conceptual understanding and are focused instead on the actual assessment. “Not really. It helps us with understanding, but not with the actual assessment.”
These are simple fixes though. Often explicitly drawing out the connections between activities and the topic of the day might help in students thinking laterally about these activities, while making their purpose clear.
With that said, as you can see, the comments were overwhelmingly positive, and it’s clear that the students are receiving active learning very enthusiastically. Due to the restrictions of space, I am unable to quote many other extremely valuable and eye opening comments by the students. However, Mauricio and Murray are working on a journal article which will include more details. Or you can reach out directly to them.