Four years ago, in an effort to improve my teaching in a large enrollment introductory undergraduate physics course at Arizona State University, I sought advice from science education faculty in my own department and in the college of education. I was advised to: 1) reduce and deepen the course content; 2) ascertain what I wanted students to learn; 3) create a test to measure this; 4) coordinate laboratory experiments with the content discussed in the large class meetings; and, 5) change my teaching style from traditional lecture to interactive engagement.
Devising the achievement test was quite straight-forward, as was changing the course design and content. But converting a large class of 100 students from a passive to an active learning environment, while maintaining some semblance of control was both challenging and risky. Fortunately, the Physics Department was poised in 1996, to purchase a new electronic response system called Classtalk for the lecture hall for my class.
That fall semester, I took the plunge to utilize Classtalk to convert my life-long teaching style from lecture to interactive, student-centered discussion interspersed with mini-lectures (<10 minutes). Classtalk is both a classroom management and a learning feedback tool, which is easy to learn to use, and very popular with the students. Students, when answering the course survey question:
What do you like best about the course?" have responded 80% of the time, "Classtalk", for the past four years. Furthermore the pretest/posttest gains for the course over three years indicate Hake gain factors* of two in students' learning of fundamental physics concepts, compared with students in traditional lecture classes (control groups). This test, the Physics Concept Survey, incorporates several Force Concept Inventory** items in addition to concepts in electrostatics, circuits, magnetism, light and optics.
This four-year teaching experiment has taught me that significantly greater learning takes place in an active-engagement classroom environment, compared with traditional passive lecture environments, and that even large-enrollment classrooms can be converted successfully to active learning environments, when managed with an efficient electronic response system like Classtalk. ®
*Richard Hake 1998, "Interactive-Engagement versus Traditional Methods: A Six-Thousand Student Survey of Mechanics Test Data for Introductory Physics Courses", Amer. J. Phys, vol 66, p. 64-74)
** David Hestenes, Malcolm Wells, Greg Swackhamer 1992, "Force Concept Inventory", Phys. Teach., vol. 30, p. 141-158.