Biology Below The Gnat Line

Biy'allogy - (n) the scientific discipline otherwise known as biology, as taught below the Gnat Line. This blog is for educators who teach science in the deep south, where social and political conservatism reign supreme and "evolution" is a cuss word.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When Flipping an Introvert, Bend at the Knees

Dr. Jackie Gerstein writes about education on her blog "User Generated Education". Without getting too "touch-y feel-y" again, I like this term because it implies that everyone has something valuable to contribute to the learning experience. I pulled this useful graphic on flipping the classroom from one of her blog entries:

Terms gleaned from distance education literature, "synchronous" and "asynchronous" learning activities, are synonymous with "group" and "individual" but add the component of time. Synchronous activities are those that allow students to work together in real time on creative projects, presentations, experiments, and discussions. Asynchronous activities are those that are done separately, even if the activity is technically a group effort (e.g. a discussion in which the participants are not physically or virtually together at the same time). I have taught exactly one online course, and it was such a spectacular failure that I told Dr. Brown I would never do it again. I could not get the students engaged, and I suspect part of the problem was that I didn't include any synchronous activities.

Synchronous activities build community, and while control freaks like myself may find them pure Hell (I used to forbid my group members from doing any of the work, then I resented them for not doing any of the work - don't you wish you went to school with me??), when managed effectively they can provide students of all learning types with a valuable experience. I like to give my students a job to do: scribes take notes, orators present information, builders create a product, etc. Having both individual and group activities also satisfies both social and solitary learners - those that learn best in groups and those that learn best alone.

Speaking of social and solitary learners, I'd like to take a minute to say that I do not believe that all social learners are extroverts and that all solitary learners are introverts. In fact, just the opposite may be true! Imagine an extrovert who just can't focus in a group setting, but given enough time alone can conquer complicated material. Similarly, imagine the introvert who is struggling with the material on their own and really needs the group dynamic to bring concepts to life. These individuals can both be served in a flipped classroom, as long as there are well-organized synchronous and asynchronous activities.

As an extrovert, I tend to understand my own kind best. However, one of the reasons I tried using i-clickers was to encourage introverts to participate in class. Terry Heick, a director at TeachThought, writes, "The simplest takeaway here is that for introverts, emotional security precedes learning. Being comfortable emotionally isn’t just helpful, but absolutely necessary." Because I don't lecture, I try to build community as quickly as possible, first with Think-Pair-Share exercises, and then with larger group activities. Introverts get swallowed up by large groups, but their chances at engagement increase in pairs. they build trust with their partner, and then with several partners, until they feel comfortable in the group. If two introverts are accidentally paired together (I've read that in the US extroverts outnumber introverts 3 to 1 but the number of introverts increases with academic advancement) they may struggle, but they struggle together. Struggling creates a bond, and those bonds allow introverts to build a community.

Do I know the best way to teach all the students? No. If there was a best way to teach all the students, the nerds who argue over pedagogy would need a new hobby. Can I serve the needs of all my students all the time? I don't know. I don't know if that's even possible. But I continue to evolve new methods to facilitate the material and encourage cognition. That is something I can do.

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