Empowering Engineering College Staff to Adopt Active Learning Methods

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<ul><li><p>Empowering Engineering College Sta to Adopt ActiveLearning Methods</p><p>David Pundak,1,2,3 and Shmaryahu Rozner1</p><p>There is a growing consensus that traditional instruction in basic science courses, in institu-tions of higher learning, do not lead to the desired results. Most of the students who complete</p><p>these courses do not gain deep knowledge about the basic concepts and develop a negativeapproach to the sciences. In order to deal with this problem, a variety of methods have beenproposed and implemented, during the last decade, which focus on the active learning of the</p><p>participating students. We found that the methods developed in MIT and NCSU were fruitfuland we adopted their approach. Despite research-based evidence of the success of thesemethods, they are often met by the resistance of the academic sta. This article describes how</p><p>one institution of higher learning organized itself to introduce signicant changes into itsintroductory science courses, as well as the stages teachers undergo, as they adopt innovativeteaching methods. In the article, we adopt the Rogers model of the innovative-decision pro-cess, which we used to evaluate the degree of innovation adoption by seven members of the</p><p>academic sta. An analysis of interview and observation data showed that four factors wereidentied which inuence the degree innovation adoption: (1) teacher readiness to seriouslylearn the theoretical background of active learning; (2) the development of an appropriate</p><p>local model, customized to the beliefs of the academic sta; (3) teacher expertise in infor-mation technologies, and (4) the teachers design of creative solutions to problems that aroseduring their teaching.</p><p>KEY WORDS: Active learning; teaching development; adoption innovations; web-technology; stareport; motivation</p><p>INTRODUCTION</p><p>During the past decades, a consensus hasformed that traditional teaching of basic sciencecourses (e.g., physics, math, and chemistry) does notresult in desired outcomes. Research universities inAmerica, with their large classes, have a poor rep-utation for teaching science (Meltzer and Maniv-annan, 2002; Powell, 2003). Students complete these</p><p>courses with a shallow understanding of basic con-cepts, poor abilities in problem-solving, a shakyunderstanding of scientic processes and a negativeapproach to learning science (Pundak and Mahar-shak, 2003; Pundak and Rozner, 2002). Experts inscience education have dealt with this phenomenonby developing teaching methods which try to ad-dress signicant student diculties that occur dur-ing the learning process (Barak and Dori, 2005;Heller et al., 1992; Laws, 1991; Mazur, 1997; So-kolo and Thornton, 1997). In spite of evidencethat these methods are successful in institutions ofhigher learning, many academic sta members inteaching colleges prefer to use traditional teachingmethods.</p><p>1ORT Braude Engineering College, Karmiel, Israel2Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee, MP Jordan Valley, Israel3Correspondence and reprint should be addressed to;</p><p>E-mail: dpundak@ort.org.il</p><p>Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2008 ( 2007)DOI: 10.1007/s10956-007-9057-3</p><p>1521059-0145/08/0400-0152/0 2007 Springer ScienceBusiness Media, LLC</p></li><li><p>RESISTANCE TO INNOVATIVE TEACHINGMETHODS</p><p>The on-going practice of many experiencedteachers continues to be based on traditional teachingmethods, year after year, despite disappointingachievement and despite the negative reactions ofstudents to these methods (Henkel, 2005). Changingthese methods demands that these teachers investeort to develop new learning materials, integratemodern technologies and confront unexpected con-ditions (Zellweger, 2005). When weighing the futureadvantage with the anticipated investment of eort,the common tendency is for many teachers to rejectthe desired change.</p><p>There are several reasons why an academic staresists innovative educational change. Geoghegan(1994) suggested that there is the unwillingness totake risks. For example, teachers may suspect thattheir adoption of an innovative teaching method mayinvolve situations where they might lose control andthus fail to achieve the desired results. A teacher whois confronted with the necessity of changing his rolein the classroomeven if he has evidence that theinnovative teaching method is eectiveoften expe-riences a threatening feeling of uncertainty (Bonk,2001). For this reason, teachers often are not eager toinvest the necessary energy needed to master aninnovative teaching method which demands on-the-job experience to develop this mastery. In this case,the resistance to change is used to reduce ones feelingof inadequacy and to minimize the resulting conict,as much as possible.</p><p>A second reason for resistance to change inteachers might be termed justication of previousdecisions (Braskamp et al., 1984). This phenomenongoes well beyond the eld of teaching and is presentin decision-making processes, in many elds. Peopletend to continue to invest their energies in a failingactivity due to the desire to prove to others (and tothemselves) that their original decisions were correct.For example, even if teachers are aware that theirteaching methods are ineective and do not lead tothe desired outcomes, these teachers experience asense of conict. Should they continue to teach withmethods which have been developed with so mucheort? Or should they change these methods andstart from scratch to learn a new teaching methodwhose success is not guaranteed?</p><p>A third reason for resistance to change is thetendency of teachers to imitate the traditionalteaching methods of leading universities. These</p><p>teaching methods are based on the nal exam asthe main component of a students evaluation in agiven class (Donald et al., 1996); however, processesthat occur during the semestersuch as carrying outspecic learning assignments, facing the challenges ofproblem solving and creativity (Heller et al., 1992),and committing oneself to working in a teamare amuch less important component of the studentsperformance. Therefore, in addition to the above-mentioned reasons to resist change, this conventionalapproach to student evaluation, as practiced inleading universities, represents a serious problem tothe academic sta in a teaching college. Moreover,many of these college sta members teach in the otherinstitutions which are characterized by these tradi-tional methods, so that they often need to teach withtwo dierent teaching methods for the same course.</p><p>THE CENTER FOR ACTIVE LEARNING</p><p>With the goal of improving its teaching prac-tices in science education, the ORT-Braude Aca-demic College for Engineering established theCenter for Active Learning (Pundak and Rozner,2006), which aims to encourage teaching practiceswith demonstrated eectiveness, such as the use ofdemonstrations, posing conceptual questions, as wellas providing brief lectures, peer teaching and struc-tured problem-solving. We adopted these methodsfrom learning environments which were developedin MIT (Dori and Belcher, 2005a) and NCSU(Beichner et al., 2000). In these approaches, thelecture is replaced with a classroom workshop(Meltzer and Manivannan, 2002), in which the stu-dents sit near several roundtables. The lecturer issituated in the center of the classroom. For most ofthe class session, the students work on speciclearning tasks which deal with problem solving andlaboratory investigations. The class functions as aresearch group, in which dierent teams give reportsabout their work and results. The role of the lecturerfocuses on planning the learning environment, acti-vating the students and giving eective real-timefeedback. The classroom learning activity is sup-ported by a computer network between the lecturerand the students as well as between the studentsthemselves. This network allows for retrieving tasks,presenting computerized models, presenting prob-lems, giving feedback, establishing discussiongroups, and the like. These changes in the culture ofteaching often give rise to diculties and reluctanceof academic sta members, even those who are</p><p>153Adopt Active Learning Methods</p></li><li><p>interested in improving their classroom instruction(Figures 1, 2).</p><p>A MODEL FOR THE ADOPTION OF INNO-VATIVE TEACHING METHODS</p><p>In many cases, the need to change teachingmethods and to adapt them to new technologies is aresult of external pressure, which results from pro-cesses which take place outside the activities of theacademic teaching sta. Such processes include thedevelopment of new technologies, competition withother colleges or partnerships with them, awarenessof the need to improve client services or the require-ment of improving student achievement. In order toassist the teaching sta in the process of adoptinginnovative teaching methods, and to help them</p><p>Fig. 1. Design of the Center for Active Learning in the Ort Braude College. Notice that the instructor is positioned in the middle of the</p><p>room, surrounded by ve sets of round tables and chairs, for the participating students.</p><p>Fig. 2. Collaborative learning with groups. Many innovative</p><p>teaching methods involve student problem-solving, with the shar-</p><p>ing of dierent points of view.</p><p>154 Pundak and Rozner</p></li><li><p>identify in what stages of this process they are pres-ently located, we have used the model of Rogers(Rogers, 1995), which deals with the processes ofdecision-making during the diusion of innovations.Rogers developed his model over 40 years ago, basedon innovation research in agriculture; the model waslater applied to other elds, such as medicine andadvanced technologies. The model presents varioussteps that lead to the successful diusion of innova-tions, as well as expected diculties that occur duringthis process. We thought that this model could befruitful in guiding us to support our faculty to adoptinnovations in their teaching methods (Figure 3).</p><p>As can be seen in Figure 1, the Rogers model ofthe innovative-decision process relates to prior con-ditions and several stages:</p><p>Prior Conditions</p><p>The teacher must feel dissatised with theway he teaches. In addition, a teachers decision-making will be inuenced by his beliefs and valuesabout teaching and learning, by his prior teachingpractice and by the common assumptions andnorms of the institution and/or department inwhich he teaches.</p><p>Stage 1: Knowledge</p><p>In this stage, the instructor expands his knowl-edge about innovative teaching methods. There arethree levels of knowledge. Awareness-knowledgerelates to information that a particular innovationexists. How-to knowledge relates to the practicalinformation needed to implement the innovation.Principles-knowledge deals with the functioningprinciples which underlie how the innovation worksand how to deal with problems that arise during itsimplementation.</p><p>Stage 2: Persuasion</p><p>As a result of the acquired knowledge, theinstructor developes a tendency to either adopt orreject the new teaching method. According to thismodel, ve perceived characteristics of an innovationinuence this tendency and account for between 49%and 87% of the variance for adopting it (Ellsworth,2000). These variables can be dened as questionsasked by the teacher about the new teaching method:</p><p>a. Relative advantage. Is the new teaching methodbetter than the one Im using now?</p><p>b. Compatibility. Does it conict with my beliefsabout learning and teaching or with my teachingexperience?</p><p>c. Complexity. Is it too hard to understand orimplement in the learning environment where Iteach?</p><p>d. Trialability. Is it possible to try it and then re-turn to the way I teach now?</p><p>e. Observability. Can I watch a instructor use it be-fore I decide to adopt it?</p><p>Stage 3: Decision</p><p>According to his understanding, the instructordecides whether to adopt or reject the new teachingmethod. In some cases, the decision to reject themethod derives from the fact that the instructor neverconsidered it seriously. The decision to adopt or re-ject an innovation is not nal and can change withtime, depending on the level of success duringimplementation, or on new information that maycause the instructor to reconsider his position.</p><p>Stage 4: Implementation</p><p>The instructor usually implements only part ofthe new teaching method and does not implement it</p><p>Fig. 3. The Rogers 5-stage model of the innovation-decision process.</p><p>155Adopt Active Learning Methods</p></li><li><p>exactly as designed by its developer. Instead, heusually modies it to t into his teaching practice,gained over years of experience.</p><p>Stage 5: Conrmation</p><p>The instructors decision to continue teachingaccording to this new method is the result of his orher satisfaction with its successful implementation.However, it usually takes time for a instructor tolearn how to successfully implement a new teachingmethod. Therefore, one of the dangers involved in theimplementation of such a method is that, during itsinitial stages, the instructor will decide to give up andreturn to his or her old teaching practice, despite itslimitations.</p><p>CONFRONTING THE CHALLENGES</p><p>To address the diculties faced by the academicstathe College undertook a number of steps inorder to minimize instructor resistance to the newteaching methods. These steps were taken at thebeginning of the prior conditions and the stages ofknowledge, persuasion, decision, implementationand conrmation, in accordance with the Rogersmodel.</p><p>Prior Conditions</p><p>The factors which led to changing teachingmethods were:</p><p>(a) Dissatisfaction by the academic sta. Low stu-dents scores on the nal exams created dissatis-faction with the academic sta as well as by thecollege administration.</p><p>(b) Student dissatisfaction. Many students whocompleted their studies claimed that the basicscience courses did not contribute to their edu-cation as engineers, but rather used by the Col-lege as a selective lter.</p><p>(c) Academic commitment. Some academic stamembers were motivated to change because ofneed to improve student achievement, theirbelief in the importance of the basic sciencecourses and the successful experience of othercolleagues, in Israel and abroad, to integratenew teaching methods into their courses.</p><p>Stage 1: Knowledge</p><p>Knowledge acquisition was initiated in severalways: in some cases the initiative came from someacademic sta members, sometimes it came from theCenter for the Development and Advancement ofTeaching at the College, and in other cases it camefrom informal meetings between members of theacademic sta. Below are four methods that wereused in this stage.</p><p>(a) Integrating academic sta in planning the change.During the past 5 years, the academic sta in theCollege has been engaged in a process of extend-ing the student learning environments beyondtraditional science courses. The research base forthese changes rests on the benets of active learn-ing (Hake, 1998). During the past 2 years, someacademic sta members have presented propos-als to the instructors in the Center for ActiveLearning, based on two active learning pro-grams, one from the North Carolina State Uni-versity (Beichner et al., 2000), and another fromMIT (Dori and Belcher, 2005a, b)....</p></li></ul>