Creating Effective Learning Environments
Certification in College Teaching Workshop
May 9th & 10th 2019
In a college classroom, one of the biggest challenges faced by educators is in regard to creating effective learning environments. In short, how do we (as instructors) keep our students interested and engaged while also allowing them opportunities to understand the course material. Instructors want their students to want to learn. More importantly, instructors want their students to comprehend the material. In order to do this, instructors must provide an effective learning environment.
During the Certification in College Teaching Institute in May 2019 we discussed one way to create an effective learning environment: peer instruction. As a group, we used clicker questions as a way to engage in peer instruction and used a five-step system to understand how peer instruction could work in our classrooms.
Ask a question
Have students respond to the question individually (via clicker for example)
Split students into groups and have them discuss the question as a group
Allow the groups to change their responses based on group discussion
Discuss the question with the entire class
One of the most important parts about using this method of instruction is to ensure the instructor asks the right questions. We utilized the learning cycle, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and believable distractors as ways to formulate the best questions for our activity that would enhance student learning. See the artifact itself for specific examples of these.
I included an activity I used in COM340, Group and Leadership Communication as an artifact to demonstrate my competency in this area. During the pandemic, when courses were online, I tried to provide interesting and thought-provoking ways to help students learn the course materials. There were several activities throughout the semester in which students would attend. (There was an asynchronous option for those who could not attend.) In these sessions, I would walk them through course concepts by way of examples. In the artifact provided, the weekly readings focused on conflict and conflict resolution. I utilized a think-pair-share type method to discuss this prompt. I asked students to think of a resolved conflict (that they would be willing to share with others). I then had them determine individually what the root of the conflict was (from course materials). Then they were put into breakout rooms to discuss their conflicts with their peers and to discuss conflict escalation and de-escalation strategies and conflict resolution types together for each of their conflicts.
Students really seemed to enjoy the course activities. It was an easy way for them to receive points while also gaining a much better understanding of the course material. Hearing their peer's examples also helped them prepare for the exam. Applying course terms to one's own life is a great way to learn and it was very successful in this class. Students performed very well, particularly if they attended these synchronous sessions.
Participating in this section of the Teaching Institute helped me to see the importance of asking the right questions. Sometimes it is really easy to ask easy questions to get participation or to lecture the entire class. But this does not create an effective learning environment for students. By posing thought-provoking clicker questions and using the peer instruction method, students can engage with the material in a more fruitful manner.
Interpretation & Reflection
The Teaching Institute lesson on creating effective learning environments was extremely helpful in providing new and exciting methods of instruction to use in the classroom. Learning about how to utilize peer learning with students is an effective tool in any educator’s classroom.
However, peer learning on its own is not enough to make students engage in the material. In fact, it is really important that instructors ask the right questions. Therefore, the inclusion of Bloom’s taxonomy, the learning cycle, and believable distractor questions are three important ways we as educators can facilitate this type of activity.
In sum, this portion of the Teaching Institute illustrated the thoughtful and deliberate preparation needed to succeed in the classroom. Once the prep work has been completed, instructors can take their materials to their students. This session on Creating an Effective Learning Environment represents the core competency by providing one extremely effective way of preparing and executing a successful and meaningful classroom activity to help students learn.