Thoughts on Teaching History in a Scale Up Classroom (Part V)

I enjoyed my fourth class in the University of North Dakota’s new Scale-Up classroom this evening, and as for each previous week, I thought I would offer my observations.

1. Spark is gone. This was the first class where I felt like the spark of the teaching in the fancy classroom has begun to dim a bit. I also think the students showed a bit more Scale-Up fatigue. It’s not that anyone was complaining or refusing to engage in the process. The students continued to work hard in their groups and produce solid work. For the first time this semester, however, I got tired. I was on my feet for the full 2:20 minutes moving from group to group addressing questions, engaging in banter, and providing guidance. My two mini-lectures amounted to less 25 minutes of lecturing. This is the first time I’ve felt “flipped lecture fatigue” (see here for a similar experience).

2. Pods and Tables. For the first few classes, I asked the pods (of 3) and the tables (of 9) to do similar assignments. For the first time this semester, we felt like the difference between the performance of the pods and the tables was significant enough to warrant a small intervention at the start of the class. So I reviewed the the difference between primary and secondary sources for historians because while most of the tables seemed to understand the difference, many of the pods seemed to struggle with it. It would seem that good ideas and right answers drive out bad, but it remains to be seen whether the good ideas at the group level trickle back down through the pods to the individuals at each table. I think I’ll probably have to flip the learning process some over the course of the class and move from tables to pods from time to time to see how much our table-sized, group-think influences our pod-level group-think.

3. Class and Home. Because our understanding of primary and secondary sources required some gentle intervention, I had to compress the other aspects of the class. The result was that after 30 minutes of work on a pod-level assignment, only about 15 minutes remained for the tables to compile and refine the work of the pods. I had asked the pods to compile a timeline of 10-15 item and to articulate their significance for their chapters. The tables were tasked with producing a master timeline from the various timelines produced by the pods and to bring in their primary source for this. Since the tables ran out of time for this process, we gave them until Friday to complete the task.

This is the first time since the first couple of weeks of the course that I have assigned formal “home work”. Part of flipping the classroom that I have enjoyed the most has been to make classroom time into “work” time. This has allowed me to observe the students’ workflow and research savvy in a more refined way. Most of my observations on student research skills are pretty basic right now. For example, many students do not go right to Wikipedia at the start of their research but waste significant time wandering the enchanted forest of the Googles. By moving part of the group work to “home work” rather than class work, the groups will have more time to produce good quality work, but the process will also be more occluded from view.

4. Peer Review. My original plan for this week was to introduce an aspect of intergroup peer review to the course, but we ran out of time because of my primary source intervention. This means next week, I am going to the pods to review the work tables. So each table should get three peer reviews from three different pods. To get the students familiar with this concept, I asked each table to talk briefly about their “best” and “worst” primary source from the previous week’s class. Asking tables to make their work public gave me a chance to offer some gentle critique during class time, to talk about primary sources across the entire historical scope of the class, and make sure tables understood what was going on in the class.

5. Have I engoodened learning? This is the ultimate goal of the Scale-Up experiment, right? It seems to me now that the Scale-Up class is ahead of where a traditional lecture would be, but I also have far more contact with the students, so I can see student progress on a far finer level than during my more traditional lectures type classes.

There is also the issue that my more traditional history courses may set the bar extraordinarily low. It is difficult to know whether the Scale-Up class is encouraging students to learn more quickly and in more subtle ways or whether my baseline is so bankrupt that anything I do in the classroom would yield essentially comparable results.

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