One of the things that I enjoy the most about teaching at Centre College is being part of a community of teachers who really care about teaching. Yesterday we had the first in our annual series of "pedagogy lunches." About a quarter of the faculty assembled for lunch, and (partly) paid for the privilege, to hear our colleague, Jason Neiser, talk about his success with "just-in-time teaching."
Before each class, Neiser sends the 60 students in his two sections of introductory physics two "warm up questions" to help them think through the concepts covered in the reading for that day's class. He also has an open-ended question that lets them raise further points they were curious about. These are low-pressure assignments - if they do a bunch over the term, they get a discount on the final. The grading is on a simple scale, and is based not on the correctness of the response but on how well they engaged the material. The J-I-T element comes in the hard part for the professor: he reads all of these responses before each class, and adjusts his teaching accordingly. The students' responses let him know if there are common misconceptions or pressing questions.
The real benefit, he reports, comes in the high level of conversation in the class. The students come in talking. They drive the discussion. He said he does not actually lose any time in teaching content, because they really learned most of the content from the reading and warm ups. And at the end of the term, when students take a concept mastery test that physics professor across the country use, his students show much larger gains than students in traditional lecture classes do.
The best part of the lunch workshop for me was the way that most of the professors there immediately started thinking of how they could apply this in their own classes. I had a thought about how I could adapt a journal assignment I am having my social theory students do this term. Other colleagues in a range of disciplines engaged the details and imagined the possibilities. Many of us will, no doubt, decide that this particular approach does not quite fit what we are doing.
But it is great to be part of a learning community.