Dr McCallum describes a common classroom situation: trying to get the students to actually read a scientific paper. You'd be surprised to learn that this is not as easy as it sounds, because reading and understanding a scientific paper is difficult. In these classes, the professor would assign a paper or series of papers and one student would act as the presentor of the paper while the others were the student "presentees." To ensure that the "presentees" also read the paper instead of passively sitting in the classroom or texting their friends, the professor would either reward or force student questions and discussion. To do this, some faculty awarded points for each question asked. Others asked questions about the paper on exams. Frequently, "participation points" would be awarded to force individual participation.
"In fact, the many different angles used by professors in my many classes all ended the same way," writes Dr McCallum in his paper. "Inevitably, a growing number of students did not read the papers unless they were the presenter."
To engage all his students, Dr McCallum devised and tested an innovative method in the two-hour lab section for his senior-level environmental physiology class. The design worked like this: Dr McCallum brought two copies of 10 different manuscripts on critical thermal maxima. In this case, almost all of these manuscripts were by Victor Hutchison, and they were very similar except for the organism involved. Only one of the manuscripts was a review paper. In a classroom of 20 students or less, each student was given a different manuscript. Only a few students had a duplicate paper, so almost everyone was responsible for their own article. Then, the students were given roughly 15 minutes to read their paper in class. At the end of that time, Dr McCallum asked if everyone was done. If anyone was not done reading, they were given a little more time to finish.
After everyone had finished reading their paper, Dr McCallum randomly asked one student to briefly describe what their paper was about. After they had done this, Dr McCallum asked the other student who had that same paper if the first student's iteration followed their understanding. Invariably, the second student had things to add or ask. Then Dr McCallum randomly asked a student with a different paper to compare what they read in their manuscript to what the other two students presented. If a second student had read the same paper, Dr McCallum then asked that individual if s/he had anything to add. Then, Dr McCallum asked the presenters of the first paper if they felt that the comparison was accurate and to explain why (or why not). Dr McCallum found that continuing this scenario through approximately four papers led to a fluid discussion where only an occasional question from the professor was necessary to stimulate further participation Figure 1:
The result of this model was not only to circumvent many lazy student behaviors, but also to improve reading comprehension by familiarizing students with how to read, process, and evaluate complex scientific manuscripts in a short period of time. To test this hypothesis, Dr McCallum included a 10-point short-answer question on an exam that asked students to discuss the topic of the papers that were discussed in class. He found that almost all of his students had at least a working knowledge of the topic and 65% earned at least 7 points on this question. When compared to the more traditional "presenter-presentee" scenario used during the previous semester, only 33% of the students earned at least 7 points on a similar question.
But even more interesting was that Dr McCallum's students' GRE, MCAT, and ETS major field exam scores increased significantly. For example, the class averages for raw section scores in the ETS major field test in biology increased 12% from the previous year and 50% relative to students taking the same classes with other instructors within one year of introducing this technique. Additionally, the number of students entering graduate and medical school also rose.
Parrots, People and Pedagogies: A Look at Teaching and Education
McCallum, M. (2010). A Method for Encouraging Classroom Discussion of Scientific Papers. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 91 (3), 363-366
Monday, July 19, 2010
college teaching - class discussion
Terrific write-up of a paper on college teaching: