minutia press.
Active Learning and Studio Sessions

We as a department are in the midst of some interesting changes in the way we approach teaching. I have an open mind about most of what we are considering, and on a few points I have no set opinion yet. I post this entry in hopes that people will respond with how they see the issues I raise. Some of what we are considering has been inspired or adapted from studies on Active Learning.

In summary, one aspect of our change is to move from in-class lecture to lectures that are meant to be viewed before coming to class. The prerecorded lecture can be watched at the student's leisure, and with appropriate indexing it should be possible to move around, skip, or review portions of the lecture. Except for control of the point in the stream, the experience is meant to be noninteractive.

In class, instead of having lecture, students work on problem solving, perhaps in groups, with the problems as motivation for truly acquiring and extending the lecture material. As needed, the professor can offer parts of lecture in review (live), but mostly the professor is guiding the students through an active learning experience, where the students learn by solving problems.

In effect, the role of lecture and homework are switched. Formerly, lecture took place in class. I try for a very interactive form of lecture, with students asking questions and guiding the depth and form of the lecture/discussion. It's certainly at issue how successful I or my peers are at doing that. Formerly, homework was done, well, at home. In the new scheme, lecture takes place at home and problems are solved in class. That's an oversimplification perhaps, but it leads me to the issue I want to raise.

I have heretofore seen one of my roles in the pedagogical process as catalyzing the acquisition of the primary concepts of the course. In fact, I have somewhat discouraged students from reading material before class, generally thinking I can cover it better or more effectively in class. Likewise, I have valued the role of interaction during lecture as a way of customizing the material and making it easier to absorb.

My sense is that the best thing is an interactive lecture/discussion along with student-driven problem solving. But that's probably beyond a 3-unit course.

What are your thoughts about this?

Another thing we're trying is "studio" format for some aspects of a course, where students work in groups and we watch how they approach problems and offer critique and advice. It's a model used successfully in the Architecture School, and we've been watching what they do and trying to adapt it to what we do. I'm doing my first studio session tomorrow for CSE431.


You are better at encouraging interaction in your lectures than most of your peers.

I certainly wanted more, more frequent, and more rapid feedback in difficult courses than I could get from the homework.

At least some companies use the project/critique approach to help programmers learn. The main problems at my current employer are that we don't spend enough time with individual programmers, there is no quantitative rigor around evaluating progress, and we have a stratified organization in which the strongest programmers are promoted into positions that require the least programming.

My guess is that you would be more successful with the studio approach than we in IT are.

I guess that the combination of lecture/discussion/problem solving would be best, and beyond a 3-unit course.

Posted by: anonymous at February 5, 2008 9:14 PM

I hadn't considered the angle about rapid feedback in favor of studio vs homework -- I agree the rapid feedback is better. Thanks for the comment.

Posted by: rkc at February 5, 2008 9:27 PM

I'd prefer the old school way of learning and i believe that the interactivity aids in internalizing the concepts. I can still remember a lot of your lectures cause I remember the questions that were asked and answered in a classroom setting while a concept was being explained. I believe we would lose this if we went the active learning way.

Posted by: rohit at February 8, 2008 12:27 AM