Empowering Engineering College Staff to Adopt Active Learning Methods

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  • Empowering Engineering College Sta to Adopt ActiveLearning Methods

    David Pundak,1,2,3 and Shmaryahu Rozner1

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

    KEY WORDS: Active learning; teaching development; adoption innovations; web-technology; stareport; motivation


    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

    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.

    1ORT Braude Engineering College, Karmiel, Israel2Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee, MP Jordan Valley, Israel3Correspondence and reprint should be addressed to;

    E-mail: dpundak@ort.org.il

    Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2008 ( 2007)DOI: 10.1007/s10956-007-9057-3

    1521059-0145/08/0400-0152/0 2007 Springer ScienceBusiness Media, LLC


    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.

    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.

    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?

    A third reason for resistance to change is thetendency of teachers to imitate the traditionalteaching methods of leading universities. These

    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.


    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

    153Adopt Active Learning Methods

  • interested in improving their classroom instruction(Figures 1, 2).


    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

    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

    room, surrounded by ve sets of round tables and chairs, for the participating students.

    Fig. 2. Collaborative learning with groups. Many innovative

    teaching methods involve student problem-solving, with the shar-

    ing of dierent points of view.

    154 Pundak and Rozner

  • 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).

    As can be seen in Figure 1, the Rogers model ofthe innovative-decision process relates to prior con-ditions and several stages:

    Prior Conditions

    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.

    Stage 1: Knowledge

    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.

    Stage 2: Persuasion

    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:

    a. Relative advantage. Is the new teaching methodbetter than the one Im using now?

    b. Compatibility. Does it conict with my beliefsabout learning and teaching or with my teachingexperience?

    c. Complexity. Is it too hard to understand orimplement in the learning environment where Iteach?

    d. Trialability. Is it possible to try it and then re-turn to the way I teach now?

    e. Observability. Can I watch a instructor use it be-fore I decide to adopt it?

    Stage 3: Decision

    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.

    Stage 4: Implementation

    The instructor usually implements only part ofthe new teaching method and does not implement it

    Fig. 3. The Rogers 5-stage model of the innovation-decision process.

    155Adopt Active Learning Methods

  • exactly as designed by its developer. Instead, heusually modies it to t into his teaching practice,gained over years of experience.

    Stage 5: Conrmation

    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.


    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.

    Prior Conditions

    The factors which led to changing teachingmethods were:

    (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.

    (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.

    (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.

    Stage 1: Knowledge

    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.

    (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). The processof presenting proposals allowed instructors to be-come familiar with innovative teaching methodsand to decide which components of these meth-ods they wanted to adopt for themselves.

    (b) Involving the academic sta in implementing thechange. Fourteen teams of academic sta pre-sented proposals to integrate Internet-basedtechnologies and develop active learning meth-ods, within the framework of the second CFP(Call for Proposals) of the countrys Council ofHigher Education; six of these proposals wereawarded grants. In addition, two of the teamsthat were not awarded grants decided to devel-op active learning methods. Each sta workedin cooperation with an expert in science teach-ing, with the goal of deciding which activelearning method to adopt, e.g., working in smallgroups (Heller et al., 1992), peer instruction(Mazur, 1997), active demonstrations (Sokoloand Thornton, 1997), working with computersimulations (Eylon et al., 1996), alternativeassessment, and the like. At this stage, the aca-demic sta had to learn innovative teachingmethods and to weigh their willingness to adoptparts of these methods.

    (c) Engaging in long-term R&D of active learningmethods. The process in the College of changing

    156 Pundak and Rozner

  • to active learning started when Internet-basedtechnologies were introduced, in the year 2000.The College administration initiated anotherchange, with the establishment of the Center forActive Learning (Pundak and Rozner, 2006).The Centers process of research and develop-ment was undertaken with participation of theacademic sta, taking into account the coursesthey taught.

    (d) Making connections with research centers withsuccessful track records. The Colleges change toactive learning methods, such as those success-fully developed, implemented and researched byother research centers, was accompanied bymaking connections with these institutions, e.g.,the North Carolina State University, whichdeveloped the SCALE-UP program, and MIT,which developed the TEAL program. The goalof making contact with these research centerswas to learn the philosophy of the respective ac-tive learning method, as well as the drawbacksand diculties of the method, as experienced bythe sta and students. Consulting with thesecenters occurred as a result of discussions wehad with Prof. Beichner of the North CarolinaState University and with Prof. Dori, who eval-uated the TEAL program at MIT. These discus-sions made it possible for us to deepen ourprofessional knowledge and gave us the oppor-tunity to meet with experts who had the experi-ence of successfully implementing theseinnovative teaching methods.

    Stage 2: Persuasion

    The stage of persuasion was based on theknowledge that the academic sta developed in therst stage. Along with getting to know the newteaching methods, the academic sta started to planhow they would adopt these methods. In spite ofaccumulated knowledge, some sta members stillwere not convinced of their ability to bring about thedesired change. In order to deepen their knowledgeand to allow them to express their doubts and wor-ries, three methods were used:

    (a) Creating support groups to deal with the change.In order to allow the academic sta to discussthe changes they are planning, two supportiveworking groups were set up: a small workinggroup and a larger one. The small workinggroup consists of 24 members of the academic

    sta who developed the work plan and associ-ated learning materials associated with the spe-cic teaching method; they met once a week.The larger working group, consisting of all theacademic sta involved in the change to activelearning, met every 23 months. In this way, theprofessional knowledge relating to each newteaching method was expanded and ways toimplement each method were presented. Thisdual process made it possible for the teachers toexpress their legitimate worries and doubtsregarding the adoption of each teaching method.

    (b) Dealing with uncertainty through knowledge. Mil-liken (1987) describes three types of uncertaintywhich are created by the resistance to change:understanding the change, eects of the changeand behaviors which might arise because of thechange. The College attempted to lower thisuncertainty and to increase the stas feeling ofcontrol through collective participation in thelearning process and identication of dicultiesof the students and sta. For each teachingmethod, the following topics were discussed: (1)What are the anticipated changes which arelikely to accompany this method? (2) Howmight this method aect the academic sta aswell as its working conditions? (3) What typesof resistance might negatively eect the success-ful adoption of this method? These discussionswere accompanied by reading research articlesthat dealt with these topics, encouraging theexpression of sta resistance and the presenta-tion of the diculties which were raised.

    (c) Taking account of the extra sta eort needed.Sta members who involved in the project pre-sented their work plan and schedule which in-cluded hours for developing the method andimplementing it in the Center for Active Learn-ing. This commitment by the College, whichlasted 18 months, was appreciated by the partic-ipating sta. Although the monetary compensa-tion did not cover all of the hours spent by thesta to adopt the new teaching methods, it ex-pressed the Colleges appreciation for the extrasta eort.

    Stage 3: Decision

    Making the decision to adopt a new teachingmethod was taken after the stage of persuasion. Thisprocess took about 10 months, during the period

    157Adopt Active Learning Methods

  • between November 2004 and October 2005. Theprocess of implementing the kinds of new teachingmethods that have been described above involved aprocess of planning, to be followed by a process ofimplementing an innovative learning environment.Despite the many doubts and worries of the sta, itappears that they were willing to jump into thewater. This decision was accompanied with thedevelopment of learning materials, which was an ef-fort to critically investigate the advantages and dis-advantages of the particular innovative teachingmethod (Dori et al., 2003). The closer the sta ap-proached the date for the new semester, the fastertheir work pace on these materials became and thegreater were their doubts about the new learningenvironment.

    Stage 4: Implementation

    During the winter semester of 2005, seven aca-demic sta members taught four introductory sciencecourses at the Center for Active Learning that wasestablished at the college. The instructors had previ-ously taught these courses, for at least eight times,using traditional teaching methods. Four of theinstructors taught introductory courses in physicsand three taught introductory courses in mathemat-ics. Details relating to these courses appear in Table I.

    During the semester, we conducted two inter-views with each instructor. The rst interview oc-curred at the beginning of the course, i.e., during the2nd or 3rd week of the course. The interviews hadseveral goals:

    1. To evaluate which student diculties arose, as aresult of the innovative teaching method,

    2. to investigate the actual teaching methods used,and

    3. to identify the instructors challenges.

    In the interview, the instructors were asked ifcertain problems occurred in their courses. Theseproblems, which involve learning and teaching, weretaken from the research literature. Table II presentsthe degree to which the instructors were aware ofthese problems. From Table II we can conclude thatinstructors are awarding to most of students di-culties. But, they met a great challenge to answer onthese diculties in the conversional lecture hall.Dudu: I dont know what you want to say here.The sentence is worded poorly and needs to bechanged.

    The second interview occurred at the end of thecourse, i.e., during the 12th and 13th week. The aimsof this interview were: understanding the variousdiculties associated with the adoption of innovativelearning method, learning about successes, under-standing in the changes in teaching approaches andevaluating the inuence of this experience on thestudent and teacher attitudes. Below are the mainreactions of the academic sta involved in theimplementation of new teaching methods. Thesereactions have been collected via interviews, work-shops, and working groups, which took place over atime period of 10 months:

    (a) Freedom versus control. Traditional lecturersface a big diculty, when required to give upthe control they normally have during a conven-tional class session. The new class session,designed according to the principles of activelearning, allows for greater freedom in planningthe class session, but during the implementationstage the lecturer needs to t a variety of teach-ing methods into a rigid schedule, which dictates

    Table I. Introductory Science Courses in the Study

    Course title Number of


    Number of


    Number of


    Number of

    hours at the

    center for

    active learning

    Physics 1 2 2 75 5

    Physics 2 2 2 68 5


    calculus 1

    2 2 73 4


    calculus 2

    1 1 38 4

    Total 7 7 254 18

    Table II. Sta Awareness of Learning and Teaching Problems

    Instructors: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


    Students learn science in dierent ways Students have nave concepts that

    create obstacles to new ideas

    Students usually have low abilities

    in problem solving

    Diculties in assessmenta good

    answer is not enough

    Personal monitoring is important,

    but it doesnt work in large classes

    Many diculties exist in conceptual


    The symbol represents awareness and the symbol represents noawareness.

    158 Pundak and Rozner

  • a limited time for implementing each of thesemethods. Every change requires the instructorto relate to the complete set of componentswhich make up the innovative learning environ-ment. During the traditional lecture courses, wenoticed that when the instructor met with di-culties with the new teaching methods, hetended to return immediately to the traditionalmethods with which he was comfortable, i.e.,the well-known approach of chalk and talk.We assume that this is a common tendency.

    (b) Work overload. Adopting active learning meth-ods requires extra work for the academic sta;they are exposed to new learning materials andteaching methods, which they need to assimilateinto their teaching. As one example, one lec-turer reported that, after he decided to integratethe method of computer simulations into hiscourse, he proceeded to review about two thou-sand simulations! During this process he choseabout 60 simulations for use in his semestercourse. This intensive eort took many days,and it was only part of what the lecturer had todo, in order to adopt this new teaching method.

    (c) Challenges of new educational technologies. Inaddition to understanding and adopting neweducational methods, in order to work eec-tively, sta members also need to understandand use new educational technologies. Theyneed to master computer systems which includea wide variety of programs to manage theinstruction and present the course content; tooperate a sound system, a video system, a sys-tem for collecting real-time data and a studentfeedback system. In contrast to the technologyof the traditional lecturer, who operates thetechnology of chalk and talk, this technologyis much more complicated. Moreover, dicultiesin operating these new technologies can be risky,i.e., they can be the source of serious problemsduring the actual class sessions. In order to dealwith this diculty the instructors are accompa-nied with a computer technician, from thebeginning of the implementation stage until thetime when the instructors feel competent operat-ing these systems.

    (d) Dilemmas arising from nding new learningmaterials. The adoption of new teaching meth-ods requires the academic sta to venture out-side the closed circle of their well-knownteaching methods and into a wide world of newteaching methods, through which they can

    engage their students in active learning, as de-scribed earlier in this article.

    (e) Creativity. The new Center requires the aca-demic sta to critically re-examine their beliefsregarding teaching methods and their implemen-tation, in light of the many options oeredthem. Although the decision to establish theCenter was made by the College, the choice ofinnovative teaching methods required theinstructors to devise solutions which would ttheir personalities, as well as the subject matterof the courses. The information technology toolswhich were made available to the instructorsgave them the opportunity to present complexand dynamic course content, which up to nowhad been presented in traditional ways. Some ofthem were creative enough to develop newmethods and to write new and more appropriatelearning material for students.

    To What Extent was Active Learning Adoptedby the Instructors?

    To establish the degree to which the instructorsadopted active learning in their courses, it was nec-essary to make observations of the actual class ses-sions. During the semester, two observations wereconducted with ve instructors and ten observationswere conducted with two instructors. We adopted thecase study approach (Yin, 2003) to integrate theseobservations with the interviews in establishing thedegree of implementation of the active learningmethods, for each of the seven instructors (Table III).The instructors reveal high variability regarding theirlevels of innovation adoption. On one hand, oneinstructor decided to leave the active learning centerand return to the traditional classroom. On the hand,a team of two instructors in a calculus courseexhibited high creativity in their teaching methodsand formation assessment; they encouraged studentsto discuss their ideas regarding their mathematicsstatements and proofs. Sometimes, the groups worksimultaneously on three dierent mathematicalstatements; after about 1520 min, representatives ofeach group presented its work. Through this ap-proach, the instructors were able to gain a highinvolvement level of students, to encourage theirstudents to construct their own mathematical con-ceptual frameworks, and to attain a very positivelearning atmosphere.

    We further analyzed the interview and observa-tion data according four levels of innovation adop-tion, as characterized by Henderson and Dancy

    159Adopt Active Learning Methods

  • (2005); see Table IV. Each of the instructors wasclassied into one of these four levels; see Figure 4.

    Figure 4 also reveals a dierent between themath team and physics teams. The math team madegreater eorts to adopt the new environment andprepare appropriate materials for active learningapproach than did the physics team.


    Our study investigates how innovations inteaching methods are adopted in an institution ofhigher learning. It presents the process of introducinginnovations, both from the organizational perspec-tive of the institution as well as the implementationperspective of the individual instructors. In keepingwith Rogers model11, an important initial conditionfor the adoption of innovations is the existence ofsome degree of dissatisfaction with the existing situ-ation (Briscoe, 1991). At the ORT Braude Engineer-ing College, there was a real sense of dissatisfactionwith the state of science teaching at the institution,starting with the instructional methods and endingwith the low level of student achievement in theintroductory science courses. This dissatisfaction wascharacteristic of all of the seven instructors whoparticipated in the study; they were able to identify

    student diculties arising from the traditionalteaching methods and they were aware of the need tochange these methods. These initial conditionsencouraged a small group of sta members to intro-duce the long and complicated process of learning,trial and development of innovative learning envi-ronments.

    In contrast to traditional teaching, which was thepedagogical background of the instructors who

    Table III. Degree of Instructor Implementation of Active Learning

    Instructors: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


    Peer instruction ++ ) ) ) ++ ++ ++Animations as a tool for problem solving ++ ) ++ + ++ ++ ++Interactive demonstrations + ) ++ + ) ) )Web assignment feedback ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ ++

    Collaborative problem solving ++ ) ++ ) ++ ++ )Interactive presentations + ) ) + ++ ++ ++

    Based on interview and observation data, the degree of the active learning in the introductory science courses was determined for each of the

    seven instructors. ++ means to a great degree, + means to a lesser degree and ) means not at all.

    Table IV. Four Levels of Innovation Adoption (Henderson, 2005)

    Adoption Adaption Informed invention Informed

    The instructor develops the

    materials or adopts it and

    implements it according to

    the SCALE-UP pedagogical


    Materials and procedures

    are given to the instructor

    who changes them slightly

    before implementing them

    The instructor uses the

    original ideas but signicantly

    alters them or develops

    fundamentally new procedures

    based on the original ideas

    The instructor develops

    materials and procedures

    that are fundamentally based

    on his/her own ideas

    Each level is progressively more advanced, from left to right




    Adoption Adaption InformedInvention



    Fig. 4. Instructor levels of innovation adoption. Based on the

    interview and observation data, each of the seven instructors

    were classied according to Hendersons 4 levels of innovationadoption (Table IV). Note the high variability between the


    160 Pundak and Rozner

  • participated in this study, innovative teachingasexemplied by the work of the Center for ActiveLearningdemands a great deal of preparation. Theideal condition to implement a teaching method is foran expert instructorwho has mastered the innova-tion in practiceto accompany the instructors whoare novices, in regard to the innovation. This condi-tion did not exist at the college. Instead, developmentteams for each of the courses were established. Teamswere combined from three to four faulty members. Inmost cases, each team had both young and seniorfaculty members. Teams met every week in order todevelop teaching materials and pedagogical ap-proaches; they met every month with an expert inscience education. Based on interviews and observa-tion data, participating instructors demonstrated ahigh degree of variability regarding their levels ofinnovation adoption, as illustrated in Figure 4.

    This variability can be explained by the behaviorof the development teams and the instructors, in eachstage of the Roger model of the innovative-decisionprocess (Figure 2), as described below:

    1. Knowledge Stage. The development teams andthe instructors were prepared to engage in deeplearning, regarding the theoretical backgroundbehind the respective innovations. This learningfocused on student learning processes, studentdiculties and how to deal with them.

    2. Persuasion Stage. The development teams andthe instructors developed a model of active learn-ing that was adapted to their own beliefs.Although active learning has been adopted by anumber of dierent institutions (Beichner et al.,2000; Dori and Belcher, 2005a, b), it cannot beadopted blindly. While developing learning mate-rials for the courses, at the Center for ActiveLearning, the academic sta developed teachingmethods which expressed their beliefs. Theseteaching methods usually were a compromise be-tween the traditional teaching model, to whichthey were accustomed before the introduction ofthe change, and selected components of the newlearning environment.

    3. Implementation Stage. During the implementa-tion stage, we identied two main factors whichcan explain the wide variability regarding the de-gree of innovation adoption:

    (a) Instructor expertise in information technologies.A great degree of variability existed between theparticipating instructors regarding their exper-tise in utilizing the various information technol-

    ogies available at the Center for ActiveLearning, e.g., using computer simulations, con-trolling a classroom of computers, employingcomputer assistance to check student work, andusing a computer system to gather personal re-sponses (PRS).

    (b) Instructor design of creative solutions to prob-lems that arose during their teaching. Duringtheir class sessions, while the instructors at-tempted to implement their new teaching meth-ods, students often behaved dierently thanexpected. There was a constant need to quicklyanalyze these new challenges and to reactaccordingly. Some instructors succeeded indoing this, thereby developing the new teachingmethod. For example, the mathematics teamdecided to present theorems to the students,leaving them to work out the proofs via groupwork, in which each groups worked on a dier-ent theorem. Each group then presented itsproof to the entire class and received feedbackfor the other students and the instructors; thisapproach was designed to develop student con-dence in their own abilities (Van Heuvelen,1991). However, some of these instructors re-verted to traditional teaching methods, as soonas problems arose. In another example, towardthe end of the semester, one of the physicsinstructors decided to return to his regularclassroom, because he found it dicult to pres-ent lectures in the Center for Active Learning.

    Today, after three semesters of work at theCenter for Active Learning, we can say that theprocess of acculturating the academic sta to teach-ing in innovative and complex environments is a long,multi-year process, as documented in the researchliterature (Fullan, 2001; Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998).The most dicult stage, it appears, is at the beginningof the implementation stage, when instructors comeface to face mostly with diculties and unexpectedsituations in the innovative learning environment. Bybeing forced to focus on student diculties, theinstructors became acutely aware of the gap betweentheir expectations and their students abilities(McDermott, 1991). Dealing with these dicultiesresulted in frustration and dierent reactions fromthe instructors. Some of them decide to revert to theirprior traditional teaching methods. Some argue thatthey have not been suciently prepared and othersare willing to take the plunge and develop creativeand innovative teaching methods in their teaching.

    161Adopt Active Learning Methods

  • The seven instructors who taught in the Centerfor Active Learning reached two major conclusions,as a result of their eorts. On one hand, the studentswere more active and involved in their learning and,as a result, understand the basic concepts much bet-ter. They also succeeded more on tests, during thesemester, than similar students who learned in thetraditional settings. On the other hand, the learningpace was slower which resulted in students learningless than expected in the course.

    In order to sustain an innovative learning envi-ronment, which oers many information technologyoptions, many instructor workshops are needed.During the 20052006 school year, a workshop wasestablished for the academic sta. Its goal was tocritically examine dierent aspects connected with thechange from traditional to active learning. Theworkshop was guided by a teaching expert, who in-vited the instructors to present diculties and todiscuss issues related to this change. The instructorswere assisted by a technician who helped them use awide range of technological learning aids in theCenter for Active Learning. Based on our observa-tions, during the rst semester only a part of theseoptions were utilized. Implementing the innovativeteaching methods took much longer than expected.The teaching expert also helped instructors who wereinvolved in developing the new learning materials toconfront diculties involving the process of changingto the innovative teaching method. This process as-sisted the academic sta to deal with the frustrationswhich are a normal part of changing from a tradi-tional to an innovative teaching method, which fo-cuses on helping to develop student understanding ofscientic concepts in new ways (Goldberg and Ben-dall, 1995). Based on the many diculties that theinstructors faced in preparing for their courses, wecan oer two suggestions:

    1. Instructors who desire to use new teaching meth-ods (e.g., those presented in this article) need toparticipate in appropriate workshops which focuson the mental changes that instructors undergowhen a signicant amount of the responsibilityof learning passes from the instructor to the stu-dents.

    2. Instructors should be accompanied by knowl-edgeable assistants, so that they can discuss theirdiculties, as they arise, and oer possible solu-tions. These assistants can help the instructorssuccessfully deal with their tendency to revert totheir well-known prior traditional teaching meth-

    ods.This article presents the way one academicinstitution dealt with the introduction of changesin teaching in introductory science courses. Thisprocess of change was guided by a theoreticalmodel which made it possible for the manage-ment and academic sta of the college to identifyand to deal with various diculties during theprocess of introducing these changes. Our day-to-day work, with the assistance of the theoreti-cal model, helped us to identify and reinforcesuccessful learning and teaching processes, andwith the help of these processes we hope to ex-pand active learning in the college, by reinforcingits benets.


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