Jan Lüdert in Political Science uses Connect to reduce lecture time and integrate technology into the classroom
Cut the lectures out of the classroom and bring in peer engagement and participatory learning instead.
–Jan Lüdert, Liu Scholar & PhD Candidate, Political Science
Jan Lüdert taught POLI 364A: International Organizations during the summer term. He previously also worked as a TA for Allen Sens and Matt Yedlin who co-taught a flipped classroom course on nuclear weapons and arms control in conjunction with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), in Vienna Austria. This course is very unique as it brings together students from the sciences and arts, so Jan gained additional experience with this type of course format. Jan also co-taught with Nienke van Houten from the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU. They designed lessons on Global Health with a particular focus on poliomyelitis eradication efforts through the World Health Organization.
Jan’s interest in teaching and learning has further led him to become a facilitator in pedagogy training. This includes Instructional Skills Workshops over at CTLT where he currently also assists in the development of online blogs and learning modules for the Certificate Program in Advanced Teaching and Learning.
Over the years, Jan explained, that he noticed a shift in the ways students are learning and the ways that they are using technology in the classroom. With that realization, he began to consider how we, as instructors, have not been paying as much attention as we should to these changing methods of learning. It prompted him to incorporate a multitude of technologies and media into his courses, and allow students to take over the baton and create online artifacts for the course. This entails that students, by drawing on active learning techniques, put technical skills into practice, and to develop their technology literacy in a way that supports their professional career paths.
What kind of technologies did you choose to work with, and what motivated you to do this?
I used Connect to organize the course, and it’s been my experience with Connect that you must take the time to set it up, because it’s the kind of system that works well if you have a good understanding of how it works and how you can utilize it.
The two key aspects for which I used Connect were the built-in Wiki collaboration tool and the file upload tool for students to post project videos in a space that the whole class could access. So for the summer course, which consists of 3-hour lectures, I presented a case study and engaged the students in theoretical work for the first 90 minutes, and then I put them into small groups and got them to work on the cases for the latter half of the class. Their “lecture material” was uploaded onto Connect as online learning modules. For the case studies, each group would work through them while adopting a specific perspective that was assigned to them – so for example, one group might be working from the viewpoint of a state delegate in an IO, and another group might be an industry leader, or a farmer, or independent experts or scientists. Taking these viewpoints, they would create Wiki posts on Connect through the Wiki collaboration tool. In this way, there would be about 7 or 8 Wikis for a given case study, each having been written from those different perspectives I mentioned. This allowed the students to have a much more holistic views of specific cases. Furthermore, by the end of the term, the students had an immense amount of peer-created and reviewed resources that they could draw from for their final research papers. After all, the Wiki assignments included citing their sources and compiling accurate information – thus sharpening their research skills. Students have also commented that these activities helped them understand the material better and allowed them to learn from each other. For achieving this, I think Connect and the Wiki tool worked really well.
As for the video projects, I decided to do this because I thought it could be a way for students to demonstrate their communication skills and their ability to succinctly convey information to others in a limited amount of time, while also allowing them to be creative. My students wrote a research paper by the end of the course, but instead of just simply being graded on their paper, I had this additional component that required them to produce a 3-minute video about their research findings. Basically, they presented a summary of their paper in visual form and according to a set of rubrics. The videos were uploaded onto Connect and then grouped under categories, such as the United Nations role in genocide prevention or the European Union and the sovereign debt crisis. This resulted in us having a collection of various research topics in visual form, organized by topic. I was absolutely amazed by what the students came up with. Some dressed up as news anchors and created their videos to resemble a TV news segment, while others made stop-motion videos and even rap songs. They were just extremely creative.
Overall, it was an experience that allowed students to grow, and I know that some of the students also made their videos public on YouTube. They’re rightfully proud of what they made and showcased, and I thought that this activity provided them with a unique method of presenting research findings. Even though working with the appropriate software and putting the video together definitely took them some time, I asked myself, what would have happened without this video aspect? They would have turned in their papers, I would have read and graded them with formative feedback, and then the students would have checked their grades on Connect – and that would be it. I think the videos allowed this content to be a little more memorable, and it encouraged the students to really reflect on the material they learned, taking into account the formative feedback they had received, while sharing their different research papers with each other during the viewing in class.
What has been the result of incorporating a flipped classroom design to your course?
What I wanted to achieve with the course was to first help students understand the theories, threshold concepts and role of different actors in the study of International Organizations as a central topic of World Politics. Second, I wanted to prepare them to become more proficient in consuming news about International Organizations and be able to present and write about politics and policies as informed citizens. Finally, I sought to prepare them for actual work in these International Organizations and related fields. Overall, I aimed to design the course in such a way that would allow me to achieve these larger learning goals. Instead of lecturing at the students during the 3 hours of class time, I posted the course material onto Connect and organized them into learning modules. Because of that, I was able to cut the lectures out of the classroom and bring in peer engagement and participatory learning instead. As I briefly mentioned earlier, I got them to work on case studies in small groups in the second half of the allocated class time. I would then walk around and listen carefully to the group discussions, and not only was I able to get a good understanding of the students’ comprehension and comfort with the material, but I was also able to help them individually with questions. I engaged directly in conversations with them, as opposed to only being able to answer a couple of questions on a very general scale in a large lecture setting.
What are some of the challenges you faced? Is there anything about your approach that you would change?
The biggest challenge I personally faced for these summer courses relates to time management as a graduate student who is also expected to progress with dissertation work. I had about 70 students enrolled in the course, and this is where a content management system like Connect came in handy. Also, since I’ve worked with Wikis and blogs in the past, I think I had an easier time setting up the whole system in the way I wanted to use it. At the same time, I had colleagues who weren’t very familiar with these tools or Connect’s full functionalities. So I would say the level of competency you have with Connect, or any other technology you want to use, affects the amount of challenges you face while creating a flipped classroom environment. Also, when you re-design your course, you have to keep in mind the ways students are affected by these larger changes. When you introduce a completely new project for the course that didn’t previously exist – especially a media-based one like the video project, which is quite unconventional for Political Science courses – it’s important to build a good rapport with the students and communicate with them so that they know what your expectations are and how you can support them.
Another challenge that I think exists with the flipped classroom concept is the fact that we do not yet have a lot of actual evidence on how it impacts student learning. I think it’s a field of research that needs further elaboration. At CTLT, I’m currently working on the ways in which signature pedagogies and threshold concepts impact teaching and learning across the Arts and Social Sciences. Signature pedagogies at its most basic form ask, “How are we teaching?” So it’s not so much concerned with what we’re teaching, but how we are delivering knowledge, and every discipline has a particular and habitual set of methods of doing this. In International Relations, we do a lot of questioning via the Socratic method, simulations and case studies, for instance, so we might have something like a mock climate change conference that the students must prepare for and participate in. I think we need to think more about how technology, signature pedagogies and threshold concepts align, and also put more focus into evaluating these new and emerging teaching methods for concrete evidence.
Do you have any advice for instructors hoping to implement these course changes as you’ve done?
If you have an idea, definitely try it out. Be creative and think of ways you can use technology to engage students and tap into their skill-sets. When given a certain level of flexibility for a larger-scale project, they know a lot more about finding their own resources and tools to achieve what they want than you might initially expect. I encourage any instructor to allow their students to be able to bring in their individual and creative abilities to demonstrate their learning of the course material. And even if you aren’t very comfortable with using technology, I think there are many easy enough ways for you to learn and get assistance to implement them. Technology, when used correctly, can help lectures be more effective and efficient in delivering information. So familiarizing yourself with Connect, taking the time to set it up, and attending supplemental workshops or training sessions are really worth the effort.