An interesting read in the Chronicle discussing the pedagogical strategy of ‘flipping’: “the inversion of expectations in the traditional college lecture,” which can take all kinds of specific forms, like group work, interactive learning assessment (i.e. quizzes or recaps halfway through a class session), or simply mixing up the physical location of students and the professor(s). One professor at UC Boulder has his students answer questions online just before class, then puts them in groups during class to debate their answers. At Harvard, a physicist has his students complete assigned readings outside of class, then work in groups to answer conceptual problems inside class that go beyond the immediate information in the readings to bring out the underlying concepts and ideas according to which the immediate facts make sense. In other words, students are asked to demonstrate a conceptual grasp of the subject matter rather than simply regurgitate facts or bits of information from the reading.
What is really interesting about this article is the relationship between ‘flipping’ and the humanities:
While the idea is not new, the topic of flipping has consistently cropped up during discussions at recent conferences about teaching and learning—and often when the subject turns to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or the STEM disciplines… Professors have flipped courses for decades. Humanities professors expect their students to read a novel on their own and do not dedicate class time to going over the plot. Class time is devoted to exploring symbolism or drawing out themes. And law professors have long used the Socratic method in large lectures, which compels students to study the material before class or risk buckling under a barrage of their professor’s questions.
The way STEM disciplines are traditionally taught makes them particularly ripe for change, Mr. Palmer says, because of their “long tradition of very didactic teaching, which involved disseminating content.” By contrast, he says, the humanities and social sciences have been about exploring ideas.
The analysis is apt, if a bit too generalized. There is also a long tradition in the humanities of lecture-dominated, didactic learning in addition to more dialogic – what we might call ‘integrated’ learning, which is closer to a conversation between the students and professor than the one-way exchange of information that characterizes didacticism. But it is the case that getting to the conceptual meat and potatoes of material to be covered in a course traditionally is something with which the humanities are intimately concerned. Not only does this indicate that the sciences are coming to an awareness of the educational shortcomings of a purely passive theory of learning, but that they can benefit from a dialogue with their peers who operate within other realms of the knowledge universe. Providing a beneficial learning environment for one’s students is an issue that transcends disciplinary affiliations.
The irony of this, of course, is that at the same time scientists are looking to the humanities for pedagogical innovations, the humanities are increasingly adapting themselves to an institutional environment that rewards science-like knowledge organization and production (e.g., getting outside research funding, high numbers of publications and citations, a greater emphasis on research activity as opposed to teaching, and increasing standardization of teaching, to name a few).
Perhaps scientists’ forays into humanistic teaching/learning strategies also points humanists to fruitful avenues of critical self-reflection.