Tips from the McMaster Community

Sometimes my explanations in class don't work.
Patrick S. Nicholson, Materials Science and Engineering

After thirty years in education, I discovered that blackboard and chalk are an inefficient way to teach. This is especially true in Engineering because the material is often dry and boring.

Walking the corridor a day before a test, I noticed two of my brighter students explaining the material to the class wag. The wag did well - better than he ever had. Then, I realized the obvious - the students teach each other more efficiently than I do!

At this point, I started to experiment with team-teaching. Quickly, I found it important to introduce competition. Sitting in teams and writing on desks worked, but something was missing. Although the teams were enthusiastic, they were introverted and ignored one another. The challenge was to raise their heads and to have them notice the others in order to compete.

In response, I developed the Multi-Computer Module - four computers facing north, south, east and west on the top tray of a mobile trolley, linked to a server-computer on the bottom tray. (This arrangement also makes it feasible to be set up in any classroom). The teams sit at tables, NSEW, around the trolley, with keyboards and mice on long cords and work at pre-programmed questions. Each team has a captain who rotates each week. The captain decides the strategy, assigns the team tasks and is responsible for the final answer printout. Correct answers gain points and winning teams get higher marks.

The pedagogy I developed is as follows:

  1. I set a fixed number of pages of a text or printed notes to be covered by each student for the next week.
  2. Next week, each student took a 15-minute test on the assigned material.
  3. I briefly covered the material and fielded questions.
  4. Teams work competitively, on a series of different questions menued by the computers.

The first time I used this system, thirty students had a class average of "B" on the final examination. Obviously, this technique is not for the single lecture or for large classes unless they are sectioned. However, I am convinced that any body of material can, with a little imagination, be formatted for computer Module Team-Teaching and be better assimilated thereby.

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