Although STEM education researchers recognize the need to incorporate a variety of in-class instructional approaches in undergraduate classrooms, few empirical benchmarks exist for the proportion of time instructors dedicate to each approach or activity. Over the past few years, our team has made a concerted effort to implement and disseminate an innovative, undergraduate mechanics learning environment known as Freeform; a pedagogical system integrating active, blended, and collaborative (ABC) instructional elements. Our work has been complicated by the fact that very few previous studies describe, in sufficient detail, what a typical ABC classroom experience looks like from the instructor’s perspective. As a result, adopters of ABC approaches such as Freeform do not have a template describing what activities are typically involved in the day-to-day use of an ABC system. To address this knowledge gap, and to inform future implementations of the Freeform environment, this paper defines a pedagogical benchmark quantifying what happens during a typical Freeform class session. This study focuses specifically on the actions of the instructor in order to answer the question: as part of the Freeform environment, what specific actions do experienced instructors take during in-person class meetings?
Since their inception, Freeform dynamics courses have seen a drastic drop in the rate at which students are earning a D grade, failing, or withdrawing from the course (the so-called DFW rate). On-going work examines the actions and behaviors of students and faculty, in addition to a variety of other variables, as a way of understanding the drastic improvement in DFW rate. For this study, each relevant in-class meeting (i.e., not including cancelled classes, those involving exams, etc.) taught by two experienced Freeform instructors was video recorded over the course of the Spring 2016 semester and subsequently analyzed with respect to instructor actions. Continuous video coding analysis was used to capture how much time these two instructors dedicated to various instructional activities such as assessments, traditional lecturing, demonstrations, and writing notes or examples in real-time. The analysis provides a clearer picture of how and when these two veteran instructors employed active, blended, and collaborative approaches in their classrooms.
The implications of the analysis are two-fold. First, we strive to improve Freeform instruction at our institution by providing instructors with an opportunity to reflect on their instructional practices in the context of rigorously-derived, quantitative summaries of real-time teaching actions. Second, we establish a benchmark characterization of ABC instructional elements in engineering mechanics, and discuss its potential implications for undergraduate STEM education at large. Through the evidence developed in this study about specific instructor actions in Freeform classrooms we expect to inform and encourage the implementation of ABC pedagogical practices by other faculty in other courses and at other institutions, as well as to provide an assessment framework suitable for the analysis of STEM in-class instructional practices.
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