Required Readings

Required Readings, 30 May 2013

Good morning, teachers and learners! Have you started your summer sessions yet? Are you taking a break from school for the summer? Even if you are, don’t take a break from learning and reading.

In Deals With 10 Public Universities, Coursera Bids for Role in Credit Courses – The MOOC company is expanding its reach. Inevitable, but I’m not sure it’s good…

University of Manitoba gives honorary degree to astronaut Julie Payette – Those Canadian astronauts are getting all the attention these days.

Student ball at Oxford University ends in ‘catastrophe’ – also amusingly. I’m a bad man.

Open Up Your Mind and Let Your Brain Shut Off – Sharon Hill’s HuffPo piece with a classic critical thinking lesson. Bite-sized, vulgarity-free, and ready to assign to your class.

Educating the Innovators – Eric Mazur and how traditional assessment is bad for education innovation.

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Required Readings are a list of links that you might find interesting! Look for them to appear every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday morning.

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P.E. Robinson

P.E. Robinson

Professor P.E. Robinson teaches astronomy to non-science majors at a 2-year college in the United States. He has a decade of experience teaching science in higher education, and providing professional development experiences to astronomers and other educators. Skepticism and critical thinking are key components of everything he teaches.


  1. May 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm —

    Appealing (or effective) as the flipped classroom might be, there’s no mention in the article of a number of barriers to implementing something like it in many disciplines and classroom situations. What is an instructor to do when s/he is vastly outnumbered by students and has no TAs or tutorial sections to engage with small groups? What about disciplines that don’t lend themselves as easily to experimentation, design, or deduction (say, history or literature). What about the real elephant in the room–institutional pressures that prevent all but the tenured minority from safely being able to depart from status quo curricula and methods?

    And of course, what to do about students who are more entrenched in the system than instructors? It’s all well and good to try to eschew conventional evaluation methods, but in my (admittedly shorter) experience, it is hard to keep a sizeable minority of students from protesting any system in which there is not a clear list of expectations that allow them to get that A (generally tests and assignments with clear goals and correct answers).

    • May 31, 2013 at 8:16 am —

      Those are all important points and issues to address when considering the use of a technique such as the flipped class. As with most effective classroom innovations and interventions, it is not one-size-fits-all. If you have no TAs, and your class is larger than 50 students, I’d say that running an active class is difficult. It’s not impossible, but it requires careful organization. I often hear from colleagues and teachers in other disciplines, “I can’t do active learning in my class because I teach [English, History, Math, Psychology, Business, etc, etc, etc].” I’ve seen effective instruction for literature and history which included innovation beyond traditional lecture. I think it starts with lesson goals. If the goal is for students to memorize a historial timeline of events, then lecture can be effective at conveying that information (although reading the book is just as effective). If the goal is to critically analyze historial events, statements, or documents, then I see no reason that an active lesson cannot be implemented in which students are given a task to do, rather than be forced to passively listen.

      You are correct about the largest barrier to using innovative teaching techniques: institutional support. That’s not an easy barrier to overcome. The first step is discussing with your department chair or course coordinator what you want to do and get them to buy in to it. It helps to clearly know your goals, technique, and the research behind the innovation. Student buy-in is not a big issue to me. I’m the boss of my class and if they don’t like have to actually DO something after lecture, then they can take another class – and I tell them this.

      It is not correct to think that effective educational innovations (active learning, peer instruction, flipped classes, etc) do not have clear expectations and pathways to getting an A. Such innovations are effective largely because they do have clear expectations. Implementation is the key – if an instructor attempts to implement a flipped class or peer instruction without clear expectations, instructions, and goals – ones that are transparent to the students – then the “innovation” is doomed to fail. There’s nothing wrong with multiple choice questions, essays, and short prompts – what I think most think are “traditional” assessments. In fact, I use all of those for my summative assessments (exams, finals). But if you teach in new ways, without re-examining the old tests, then success may not happen. Students buy in to innovative teaching when they see the connection between assessment and what they do in class. For example, my students have “mini-lectures” before the active learning. The lectures are the need to know material. Then students have to answer, using voting cards, multiple choice questions, which I have carefully arranged to mimic the style and difficulty of exam questions. Students also complete collaborative tutorial activities. Exam questions are directly related to these tutorials and associated homework. That’s where the buy-in comes from. If the exams were disconnected from the class activities, then students would protest, and justifiably so.

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