I listened to our instructors who shared their experiences last semester, and I heard what they were saying, including:
- The environment is great for students working in small groups.
- Even better if the students have something to do/work on together.
- Planning, organization, and clear instructions are a must for activities (and takes a lot of prep time!).
- Groups finish at different rates so need to have something planned for those who finish earlier.
- The teacher station being located in the middle of the room is a new experience to get used to.
- Students' attention is focused inward to what is happening at or in their groups/pods.
- Giving a lecture, even a mini one, can be a challenge (see all of the above for explanation as to why!).
I never doubted a word of this feedback, but it is a completely new thing to experience them myself. I took these to heart when planning for the first day, and it went well. Overall we used just about everything available to us - technology, group workstations, whiteboards, open space (for our mixer); we brainstormed, discussed, located info, reported out. It felt like we pretty much did it all and that it went smoothly.
And then there was Day 2.
Let's just say that things didn't go according to plan. A mixture of things contributed to Day 2 not living up to my expectations, and I have been mulling it all over since 12:50pm on Friday. Here are what I believe to be some contributing factors (sharing just in case it becomes useful for others):
- Too much was planned for a 50-minute period.
- The questions I posed to the class were too many and not strategic enough.
- A pod computer died in the midst of a group activity, leaving one group stranded since the activity relied on each group being able to display on the monitor located at the pod. This threw off the rhythm more than I expected it too.
- A student's input seemed to be a conversation killer following what was otherwise a useful brainstorming session. (And in hindsight, of course, I realize I could have recovered better!)
I spent the weekend brainstorming ideas of my own: structure for class meeting times, classroom management, clearer ways to present instructions. I know that it is possible for an active learning-based class to run smoothly - luckily I have insights from colleagues here on campus and my own first day experience to build on. I am convinced that the planning and organizing is key. Maybe I had fallen out of practice with doing this because my classes had hit a rhythm of sorts over the past few years; often times I could walk into the classroom armed with a couple of old standby _____ (fill in the blank here: applications, problems to solve, news headlines to analyze, data set to manipulate) and go with the flow. Perhaps part of me figured that it is still the same content and structure (hybrid/blended) so this semester would be more about ramping up the student engagement and involvement that I have been working to incorporate over the past few years. It is so much more. In some ways I feel like I am new to teaching again even though it has been nearly ten years since I started. (The level of detail I am now planning out reminds me of the days when I used to note when to use the overhead projector vs. chalkboard - just 5-6 years ago! - and how to transition.) It is very possible that the Day 2 experience is exactly what I needed - a swift kick in the pants to make the rest of the semester as successful as possible.
Today, Day 3, was better. Back on the upswing. Days 4 and 5 will be even better. It takes time to get a feel for what works best in the space during our allotted class time. I will share a bit more about what worked (and what didn't) during Week 2 once it is complete.
*It is worth noting that if I would have reacted as if Day 2 was how it was always going to be in an active learning-based class, with group work, in that particular classroom, it wouldn't be very appealing to continue. I am convinced that all days don't have to be like Day 2. For me, at this time, it is worth it to keep trying, to find the balance between planning out class meetings - every activity (well, every 5 minutes of class time, really) - and going with the flow.