Faculty workshop aims to create active learning in class

Twenty-three faculty members attended a workshop hosted by Allegheny College on Saturday, Jan. 30. This workshop aimed to create spaces of active learning in science and mathematics classrooms.

The workshop, hosted by Ed Prather, executive director of the Center for Astronomy Education at the University of Arizona, covered how to effectively utilize interactive technology and active learning in science classes.

Professors who attended the workshop said they came out with a better view on how to engage students in the classroom.

“The most important thing is that everybody as a teacher can learn everything to bring into the classroom,” said Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole.

We weren’t taught how to teach, we were shown how to lecture.

— Ed Prather

Prather emphasized that regardless of experience, professors can always improve how they manage a classroom.

“We weren’t taught how to teach, we were shown how to lecture,” Prather said.

Methods discussed by Prather include the use of a fill-in-the-blank method, where a professor asks an incomplete question and expects student responses. Prather also advocated for a change to clicker quizzes, in which professors ask a question on a board and students respond using a clicker. Instead, Prather said professors should utilize a piece of paper on which four colored boxes read different letters. He said this method allows professors to ensure each student answers and to see how accurate the answers are immediately.

Rachel Weir, associate professor of mathematics, said methods shown by Prather have an effective use in the classroom.

“They give you a good way of assessing how well students are keeping up with what you’re saying,” said Weir.

Christy Donmoyer, assistant professor of biology, neuroscience and community and justice studies, agreed with Weir.

“Most of his ideas do really work, and he backed it up with lots of evidence,” said Donmoyer.

While Prather said lecturing should not take a majority of class time, however lectures in classes can be useful if used properly.

Weir said the workshop also presented a time for professors to analyze the effectiveness of their own teaching methods.

“One of the lasting results from the workshop was thinking,” Weir said. “Thinking about whether the questions I ask in class are actually useful or getting across what I think they should.”

Alice Deckert, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said she already uses methods Prather advocated and noticed significant increases in student participation since implementing them.

Weir said the workshop provided for professors an opportunity they do not often get.

“I like getting the opportunity to talk about teaching. It’s really important,” said Weir. “I feel like we don’t get the opportunity to do that as often as we should.”