Preliminary Evaluation of the Experiment — Part 1

I finished the first semester of my experimental intro course. Here are some preliminary thoughts about how it worked out.

The original intent was to change the course in two ways, first by modifying the content of the course, or more precisely the content of the class sessions, and second by trying to teach students metacognition to enhance their learning.

With respect to the content aims, I was fairly successful at not lecturing on basic content from the text, but rather using the class sessions as laboratories for non-lecture activities. Looking back at my notes I spent only 7/42 class sessions lecturing, including several mini-lectures (comprising only part of the class period). I also did well at keeping on a clearly defined schedule. The result was that I “covered” more material than in the past few years, though at several points I worried about possibly sacrificing depth for breadth of coverage. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to add depth of meaning thru metacognition, though not depth of coverage. For some topics, I clearly didn’t take the class into the same depth as I had in past semesters, leaving it for them to do on their own.

What did I accomplish in lieu of lectures? I added a few more class discussions as well as a few more group activities. What about new media? Here I wasn’t as successful.

Audio – I identified a few items I could have used, but mostly after the fact. I only got one podcast into the classroom.
Images – I used images a few times where appropriate. More precisely, for a couple of topics I created slide shows of images to illustrate the material. I missed one opportunity (The Great Depression) due to lack of prep time, that I have since rectified for next time. This is at least an improvement.
Simulation — I had tentatively identified two simulation exercises that I thought would work well. When I got to them, one turned out to not be appropriate. The other required a fee for usage, which I didn’t feel I could impose on the students at the last minute. (The fee would cover access to the entire site with more than a dozen simulations—I only wanted to use one.)

In retrospect, I identified one major problem with the course: The text we used didn’t match my course content enough. Especially during the middle of the course there were large differences between how the text covered the material and I how did. The largest discrepancy was that the primary macro model I taught was relegated to an appendix in the text. The one the text focuses on I didn’t teach. There were sound reasons for this–that model is unnecessarily complex and misleading to the students. I choose the text because it was one of the few that cover the simpler model. Most don’t cover it at all. I was able to teach everything I needed to teach more simply with the model from the appendix. Several times, I told students that we would cover the material presented in the chapter but using the model in the appendix. Nonetheless, many students were still confused. (See earlier posting on students studying the wrong stuff.)

I wonder if I tried to accomplish too much this semester? Did I try too many innovations: teaching metacognition, changing the content of the class sessions, and completing an earlier experiment on critical thinking? This semester I have more modest goals. I have completed the critical thinking work. I will add new media where I can, but I plan to focus on teaching metacognition.

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