Jan uses several tools in his teaching: Videos, screencasts, pencasts, preparatory quizzes in Absalon and live quizzes in the classroom. Testing one thing at a time has become his regular approach.
Teacher: Jan Halborg Jensen
Jan’s students prepare for classes by watching his video lessons and PowerPoint presentations and doing quizzes in Absalon. When they meet up in class, the students do exercises based on the material, answer questions and listen to feedback from Jan and each other. Jan practices what is known as a flipped classroom.
Instead of textbooks, there are plenty of online resources that he has found or written himself on the various subjects. The classroom learning experience revolves around questions and exercises that all students respond to via the program Socrative (Student Response System).
What was your motivation?
Jan always has one eye on ways of improving his teaching, how well the students understand the material and when his teaching works. His approach is to try out one new tool at a time and see how it works in practice.
How did you get started?
“In 2011, I wrote an introductory textbook on molecular modelling for use in teaching. This got me thinking about teaching, about how to help students understand the material.”
Jan started incorporating more visual elements into his teaching, and his initial curiosity gave rise to several supplementary questions. He also wanted to make the most of the time spent with the students.
“I started Googling common problems and alternatives to classical teaching.” In doing so, he came across Mazur (see video below), which he found highly inspirational. One of the first tools was a live quiz system. “It was free and easy to use, and I was able to test it at home first. That’s what got me started.”
How did it go?
It’s important for Jan to test each tool in his home office before deploying it. This lets him learn the techniques involved and figure out how to apply them in the classroom. He then tries out the tool in class, evaluates it and adapts it for the next class.
Students may not be used to his way of teaching, but they quickly get the hang of it, and most of them welcome it.
What was the outcome for you - and the students?
A key element in Jan’s flipped classroom is that he constantly tests whether the students understand the material.“If they can answer questions about what they’ve read, I don’t need to spend as much time reviewing it.” In other words, it is an advantage for the students, as they get more quality teaching time.
Most students like his procedure of online “lessons” as preparation followed by exercises and questions in the classroom. It can be demanding, but the students get used to it and learn from playing an active role in the course and using the content.
The most regular criticism or comment is that they would like more actual lectures from time to time. Gifted students sometimes find the questions too easy, so the biggest challenge is keeping everybody on board and stop anybody from losing interest or falling by the wayside.
“I’m pretty systematic about my questions now. When half of the class knows the answer, the other half have about 30 seconds to answer. The quick ones don’t have much time to feel bored before we move on.”
For Jan, all of this has made teaching far more interesting. His curiosity drives him to test, probe and learn all of the time.
“I used to be involved in various research projects, and then there was my teaching as well. Now, I see my teaching as a research project,” he says. “It’s an intellectual challenge in the same way as interesting research.”
How much time did you spend on it?
“How much time do you spend on an interesting research project?” Jan responds, rhetorically. It takes more time than it would if he just gave traditional lectures, but it is also much more interesting and stimulating.
And in the long run, it saves time. For example, when it comes to repeat courses, he is now better equipped to write good exam questions, because the data from the students’ answers during the course gives him a more accurate idea of their level of understanding.
Jan’s final comment is about how to get started. “Think of teaching as a research project. There are 10,000 ways to do it. Take one step at a time, experiment and see how it goes.”
If you want to read more, Jan has collected his and others experiences at his own site: Active Learning: Tools and Tips.