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Thoughts from the Yale STEM Education Conference

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[Originally Posted August 2014]

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a one-day symposium put on by the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching.  The event was fantastic, and essentially the entire morning was dedicated to flipped and active-learning classrooms.  I especially enjoyed listening to Jim Rolf, a calculus teacher at Yale who has adopted the flipped classroom.  I appreciated his stories about putting content online in video format, because his experiences so closely mirrored my own.  He also offered some ideas and frameworks which I found very useful.  Here are a few tidbits I brought away from his talk, and a few meandering reflections:

  1.  Jim cited a 2012 DOE study which showed no difference in outcomes in purely online versus face-to-face teaching.  However, the study found that students did perform better when the course was presented in a hybrid format.

  1.  I’m not sure if it was original, but Jim described his pedagogy using an I.C.E. framework:

Inform - prior to class (video)

Confirm - linked quizzes related to the material.  I know from my own classes that this is a critical component; it apparently holds true even at Yale.

Extend - During class, offer just-in-time-teaching, peer-instruction, etc., to build on the ideas.

  1. In my classes, I have migrated essentially all of my previous lecture content to video, including big ideas and detailed sample problems.  This means that in class, I can be almost completely focused on small-group problem solving.  By contrast, Jim limits his pre-class videos to the big story - he talked about developing a narrative tension in his videos - framing the “why” of the idea, and the high-level concept.  (He hopes to add a library of solved problems in the future.)  I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of the two approaches, and don’t have a strong opinion yet.  Do any of our readers have reflections on this?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

  1.  This past year, Rolf did a study on two sections - one using the pre-class videos, and one not.  While he saw slight improvement in exam scores in the class with preliminary videos, he actually saw a slight drop in reading, problem-solving, and peer-teaching activities that took place after class.  This seems like a negative, but I suspect it means that students are more comfortable with the material when they leave the classroom, and therefore perhaps don’t need these activities to the extent they would otherwise.  

There were several other very enjoyable sessions from the meeting, but perhaps the very best one came at the end of the day - a trip all by myself to Modern Apizza, a venerated brick-oven pizza place a mile or so from Yale’s main campus.  Delicious.

modern apizza

About the Author
Kevin Revell received his bachelor's degree from the University of New Orleans in 1995, then his Master's Degree in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State in 2000. After several very formative years working in the pharmaceutical industry, he decided to go into education, and from 2002-2006 he taught chemistry at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. Following completion of his Ph.D. from the University of South Florida in 2006, Kevin joined the faculty at Murray State University in Murray, KY. Kevin's research interests include organic synthesis and functional organic materials. He loves to teach, and is increasingly interested in science education in flipped and online class settings. He and his wife Jennifer have 3 kids, and they stay busy between family, church, school, and playing basketball in the driveway.