A few years ago, few UT Arlington students would have envisioned blogs, podcasts and electronic homework as an integral part of the learning experience.
But these innovations and more are in their classrooms today, many as pilot projects in the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which focuses on active learning as a means to enhance higher-order thinking skills (the ability to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information).
Through the QEP, UT Arlington seeks to create an environment for students to become engaged partners in their own learning process, not passive receivers of information. The goal is for students to learn the thinking skills that will better prepare them to apply their classroom experiences to understanding the world around them.
Twelve projects—three in engineering and three in liberal arts (including a joint project with the University Library) and one each in architecture, business, education, honors, nursing and science—were selected as QEP pilots in spring 2006 from 38 university-wide submissions.
The courses will begin this fall.
“We wanted to include projects representative of the various schools and colleges from across the undergraduate experience—ones that employed various forms of active learning, both in terms of techniques and duration,” QEP coordinator Victoria Farrar-Myers said. “It was important in all cases that the project’s focus was on enhancing higher-order thinking skills and that the model developed could be disseminated to other programs, schools and colleges in the future.”
One of the engineering classes, Electrical Engineering 2315-Circuit Analysis I, will feature computerized, interactive homework.
“Students will do their homework electronically,” explained Bill Dillon, associate professor of electrical engineering and primary investigator for the project. “When they submit an answer to a problem, they will know instantly whether they are right or wrong rather than having to wait to get the assignment back after turning it in to an instructor.”
Students who give a wrong answer may work the problem again. Dr. Dillon also will teach a section where students turn in their homework, thus enabling comparisons about the effectiveness of the active learning enhancement on students’ thinking skills.
An upper-division education course, LIST 4343-Content Area Reading and Writing, will use blogs, podcasts and vodcasts (video podcasts) as students determine what impact these tools have as teaching aids.
“Our goal is to reach students with the tools they use,” said Jeannine Hirtle, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, who serves as co-primary investigator with Joy Wiggins, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.
Dr. Hirtle emphasizes that the students and the instructor will be posting and sending out podcasts.
“Our goal is to reach students with the tools they use. We want to ... utilize the powerful tools of social communication as they become available.”
“We so often hear that students are bored in school, that they have to power down from their technology when they enter school,” she said. “We think it’s important to show our pre-service teachers how they can incorporate the digital tools of this generation into instruction. We want to go beyond word processing, data bases and PowerPoint and utilize the powerful tools of social communication as they become available.”
Other examples of pilot projects incorporating technology: the architecture course and its computer-based portfolio building, and the engineering and history courses employing classroom response systems. All of the projects will be studied each semester for the next three years.
“At the end of each semester and each year, we will put all of the information we learn from each of the pilot projects together and assess what the next steps will be,” Dr. Farrar-Myers said. “Over time, we hope that these active learning strategies tailored to enhancing higher-order thinking skills will be a defining aspect of a UT Arlington classroom.”
— Jim Patterson
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