Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Approaches to assessing 21st century pedagogies

June 18, 2004

What influences a decision to adapt or adopt pedagogies– new or old?

We asked this question of PKAL F21 members in preparation for the NSF-sponsored CCLI meeting in mid-April. Responses from this community were quite consistent: documented effectiveness.

One respondent said, what I want to know is:

  • what learning students have retained and are using in subsequent courses
  • how students integrate what they have learned in one course/lab into other learning situations and/or into experiences in their everyday lives (instead of knowledge sitting there "unused")
  • if writing skills or quantitative scores go up on standardized tests taken for graduate school (national measures)
  • actual data on improved student learning, improved student retention, for example:
    • for a course for majors, I would look at independent study skills as students work on their senior project
    • for a course for non-majors, I would want to know whether students make the connections from their study of science to courses in their major
    • for both groups, I would like to know how they are using knowledge learned in the class five years out as an alumni.

(This information is anecdotal/qualitative, to a significant extent, but I think it is superior to the quantitative measures we usually gather. It can be gathered, at least preliminarily, through written assignments in which students must answer questions that require understanding/synthesis/evidence of the ability to apply knowledge.)

  • Research evidence that such practices will engage my students (such as interactive learning/service learning) more effectively than what I am doing now. For example:
    • I do not use power point presentations in upper-level/discussion-oriented sessions because they hamper interaction and make the course more oriented to the lecture.
    • Recognition that the current approach is not working– evidenced by blank stares, and/or miserable scores on test questions, and/or decreasing numbers of majors, even from the population of the "best students."

Some of this "evidence" comes from the work of colleagues, in and beyond a campus, bench-marking and examining other models for teaching the material under consideration, talking with colleagues, etc.

One respondent remarked on the opportunity to experience first-hand the impact of a new pedagogy– cooperative learning– at a conference during which:

  • an economics professor discussed the idea of breaking large lecture classes into groups for short-term problem-solving sessions (estimate the area of the State of Ohio in square miles), and I observed the group dynamic, how people played different roles, how faculty from different disciplines responded
  • a biology professor used cooperative learning techniques to get biology students to understand misconceptions in physics (trying to reason out, in small groups, the correct answer).

These and others spoke of the intrinsic excitement of identifying a problem and figuring out how to solve it. What follows are some stories about the experiences of pioneers and early adapters that can serve as a starting point for uncovering documented evidence about what works.