How to create an active classroom

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Dina Newman and Kate Wright work closely together to introduce creative teaching techniques into their classrooms. The two assistant professors of biology in RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences design a lot of their own instructional materials that transform their classrooms into active learning environments.

The synergy between the colleagues has led them to co-author numerous articles and to explore different pedagogical tools, such as:

  • Medical case studies provide narratives and opportunities to explore biological concepts, make predictions and hypotheses. “The students like the cases because they’re real world,” Wright says. “It’s a transition for getting them thinking in class.”
  • Student Response Systems, or “clickers,” are wireless keypads that enable students to answer interactive questions and surveys in class. Harvey Pough, professor of biology, introduced Newman and Wright to the RIT-supported technology, which they have added to their repertoire. Now, Wright peppers clicker questions to the 120 students in her molecular biology lectures. “This is a good way in a big class to keep people involved and engaged.”
  • “Interactive Video Vignettes” are online interactive modules used by Bob Teese, professor of physics and a member of the Science and Mathematics Education Research Collaborative. Teese led workshops in 2009 as part of the LivePhoto Physics Project sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation. “Digital video analysis can help students master difficult physics topics using a full range of representations, including analytic mathematical modeling,” he says. Newman and Wright are adapting Teese’s ideas to biology topics.
  • Social networking tools, such as Nota Bene, an integrated software program, allow for virtual group discussions about articles or other posted materials outside of class. It gives Newman and Wright a different perspective and a different way of interacting with their students. “I can see what they’re thinking, and it’s not what I would have thought they were thinking, many times,” Newman says. “For example, the words they choose to focus on very often are things that I would have passed over.”