| Learning technologies should be designed
to increase, and not to reduce, the amount of personal contact between students
and faculty on intellectual issues.
||(Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education, 1984)|
JiTT Learning Goals
|A. Gavrin, firstname.lastname@example.org|
Just-in-Time Teaching is a pedagogical strategy, so its learning goals are those of the instructor: mastery of the subject is always the primary concern. JiTT helps students achieve mastery by helping teachers engage students in their learning. JiTT helps instructors make the lecture setting more participatory and student centered. Simultaneously, JiTT helps students stay focused and prepared to learn throughout the semester. JiTT also helps teachers identify the strengths and weakness of their students, their materials and their presentations. Thus, it helps instructors adjust the pace of the course and the quality of their resources to maximize learning. By helping teachers engage students and improve their courses, JiTT helps students learn more of the content, skills, and attitudes that faculty value.
In addition to these goals, the structure of JiTT aids students in developing skills and behaviors that will continue to benefit them as learners and as professionals. Well constructed JiTT assignments ask students to address open-end questions at a conceptual level and in writing. Improved communication skills, and an ability to deal with ill-defined problems, are direct results. Effective study routines and the habit of connecting new ideas to prior knowledge are also among the benefits that JiTT can bring.
The essence of JiTT is feedback: students are asked to work in preparation for each class, and faculty use this work to improve the class itself. In turn, faculty consider the successes and failures of each class, and use this information to adjust subsequent assignments. This can be done in many ways, but I will focus on one possibility, the JiTT WarmUp exercise.
As used in the authors’ physics courses, WarmUp exercises are delivered via the WWW and are due (online) two hours before the lecture sessions. The WarmUps ask students to read the text in preparation for the lecture, and to answer two to four conceptual questions. These questions cover the material in the reading that is most central to the upcoming class. We instruct students that good answers should range from a few sentences to a paragraph, should be well written, and should rely on plain English rather than on mathematics.
The WarmUps are in some ways similar to “reading quizzes” which many instructors use to encourage students to prepare for class. Because the WarmUps are due before lecture, students must read the text in order to receive credit. This is just the same as the effect of reading quizzes. However, the submission of the answers is taken care of electronically, and before class. The full effect is achieved, but with no use of classroom time. Further, answering the WarmUp questions starts students thinking about the reading before class begins. This is a considerable advantage over the quiz, which encourages reading, but does not necessarily start students thinking critically about the assigned material.
WarmUps also help faculty adjust the pace of their courses and the quality of the instructional materials they use. Because the WarmUp responses are due well before class, faculty can review the students’ answers and make “Just-in-Time” adjustments to their intended presentation. If most of the students have clearly mastered a point in the reading, then that subject can be handled quickly. If a point has clearly not been understood, additional time can be devoted to that subject. This is a significant benefit, especially to an inexperienced instructor or to an instructor teaching a course for the first time. If the assigned reading clearly fails even excellent students, then instructors can consider replacing or supplementing the assigned material in future semesters.
The WarmUps also help make the lecture setting more participatory and student centered, because students’ answers to the WarmUps may be used in class. Here is one possible strategy. Beginning after the WarmUp is due, the instructor reviews the students’ answers looking for those that typify both good understanding and common errors. The instructor excerpts these and copies them to an overhead slide or other medium, which she brings to the lecture. She may then refer to these excerpts as needed throughout the lecture session.
There are many possible uses of such excerpts, and the benefits can be striking. Examples include introducing new jargon, dealing with difficult new ideas, and helping students see the connections between the subject and their own experiences. Consider jargon as an example. In physics, many common words have subject-specific meanings. Students often fail to notice when these words are introduced, and misunderstand a great deal before they realize that there is a problem. (The author has seen students go through many weeks of introductory physics interpreting the “normal force” as the “usual” one.) Such problems can easily be avoided by a WarmUp question of the form “In your own words, please explain how the word ‘jargon’ is used in section xyz of your text.” Similarly, real-world connections can be explored by questions that ask students to “use the ideas in section xyz to interpret what happens in the following situation.”
WarmUps can be particularly powerful when introducing students to complex new ideas. A carefully chosen question can prompt students to touch on many important aspects of a new concept, method, or point of view. In the author’s experience, most students will appreciate and describe only part of a rich, new idea, but different students will pick up on different aspects. In such a case, the author attempts to assemble the entire picture during class. By bringing excerpts of student work that are each incomplete, yet provide good descriptions of the various facets, the author can cover the intended topic using students’ words as a framework for the presentation.
In addition to helping students learn the subject at hand, JiTT can also bring benefits by helping students to structure their time and their ways of approaching a new subject. Most faculty agree that students get more out of classroom time if they prepare for class by reading the text ahead of lecture. This is the primary reason for the use of “reading quizzes.” Just as the quizzes do, JiTT encourages students to develop this habit. Similarly, people learn new subjects best if they work with the new ideas regularly and in suitable doses, rather than by saving the subject for infrequent “cram sessions.” Because JiTT naturally asks students to read and answer questions several times each week, students are helped to develop this beneficial habit.
There is an important caveat here: students do not automatically generalize points such as these. If a faculty member desires JiTT to have these results, he must spell this out to his students. For instance the author tells students on the first day “You are going to have to read ahead to get credit for the WarmUps. I think you’ll see that you get more out of the lectures this way, because you will be better able to judge what is important. I recommend that you do this in your other classes even if they don’t have WarmUp assignments.” This appeal is repeated, with variations, many times throughout the semester. Similar entreaties encourage students to practice connecting new knowledge to old, new ideas to potential applications, etc.
JiTT also helps students to develop and practice writing skills, and to deal with ill-defined problems. In his physics classes, the author asks students to answer the WarmUp questions in plain English, without resort to mathematics. Students are told explicitly to write as if they were employees in an engineering or scientific enterprise writing memos for use by managers without technical training. In order to excel, students must learn both to write clearly and concisely, and to limit the scope of the question in a sensible way. They are encouraged to highlight the essentials and make note of potential complications that are not considered further, but which could be expanded upon.
In closing, the author would like to stress that the goals and methods described here are not intended to be exhaustive. Just-in Time Teaching is a highly flexible system that can be adapted to different class schedules and levels, different subject areas, and the personal preferences of different instructors. The key principle is always feedback between what students do during class, and what they do before and after. By enhancing and relying on this feedback, instructors and their students can achieve many benefits.