Sunday, October 6, 2013

Meanwhile, at The Ohio State University

This weekend was parents' weekend at Ohio State, and I spent a wonderful weekend with my daughter who is a sophomore there.  Among other activities and presentations we attended was one by Dr. Matthew Stoltzfus (or Dr. Fus, as he is known to his students), a chemistry professor who has flipped his general chemistry classes.  Yes, this means he has flipped a class that regularly has over 200 students per section in a large lecture hall.  Yes, it means he doesn't lecture, at least not in the way that any of us would expect.  His class is very interactive and very discussion based, with the general setup of the class being: (1) the students watch the introductory video on the material before class; (2) the students are given a situation or problem to discuss, and Dr. Fus walks around, guiding the discussions but not giving away the answer; (3) the students enter their response electronically, and Dr. Fus, receiving the responses in real time, goes around and gives advice and suggestions to the students; (4) Dr. Fus gives a short explanation of a similar or related situation; (5) the students resume discussing the original problem, with an opportunity to change their answer if they want.  For the most part, the students arrive at the correct answer after the second attempt.  It was really neat to see that the idea of not lecturing for 50 minutes straight while the students take notes has begun to be put into practice at the college level.  I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Fus briefly after the presentation, which included us answering a simple chemistry question in the manner described above.  He said that there are other professors who are getting away from the traditional lecture and, in different ways, implementing a more interactive, discussion-based method of instruction.

Then at lunch, I had the opportunity to have a discussion with another student at OSU.  Along the way, he asked how my daughter and I had spent the morning, and I told him about the presentation by Dr. Fus. The student said that he has had several professors who have flipped their classroom, some good, some bad.  Responding to my question about what he saw as the difference between the good and the bad, he said that it really seemed to come down to how much the professor interacted with the students.  In his opinion, those who did had a great class, and he added that he felt he got more out of those classes than he would have from a traditional lecture.  However, he said that he felt he would have gotten more out of a traditional class than he did from the classes in which the professor did not interact with the students but instead essentially provided a space for the students to discuss the lecture they had watched.

Needless to say, this was all music to my ears.  Student-centered, discussion-based guided inquiry as the basis for learning in a college classroom dispels the misconception that we at the high school level need to be lecturing since this is what the kids will experience in college.  The mentality among some high school teachers is that high school needs to be the bridge between a school experience where the teacher adjusts to the students, and college where the students must adjust to the professors.  To see a professor as student-focused as Dr. Fus, and to hear from him and from the other student that this is (finally) beginning to happen on college campuses reassures me that we who are (finally) implementing this at the high school level that on the right track.

And it energizes me to continue to spread the word about the Harkness philosophy.  On we go...

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