Changing Strategies in Teaching for a Transformative Learning
November 19–20, 2020
Most of today’s university-level classrooms are composed of Generation Z members and some millennials. The newer generation of students (born between 1996 and 2012) has unique characteristics and expectations, especially since they were born alongside technological and communication developments that shaped every aspect of learning. Generation Z is more likely to be more social, mobile-oriented, global, digital, entrepreneurial, experiential, and visualm than preceding generations. With this information in mind, two professors have been applying, optimizing, and reflecting on different teaching and learning strategies for a first-year, co-taught course. This course prompts students to explore and reflect on the current economic situation of Puerto Rico and potential alternatives for the future. The course emphasizes the importance of personal finance, provides students with personal finance tools, and supports students in developing a personal brand as a strategy for their professional development.
From Macroeconomics to Personal Branding is an undergraduate course that began in the fall of 2018. It was designed for the business development program and responded to the institution’s vision of integrating concepts and topics that are not usually discussed together, but are necessary for the development of entrepreneurial ability. Most enrollees are first-year students in the business development major, but the course has grown to include students from music, natural sciences, public relations, advertising, theatre, events, tourism, and accounting.
In the remote virtual classroom, active-learning activities, such as role-playing, project-based learning, discussion-based learning, problem-solving learning, challenge-based learning, think-pair-share, and assessment with immediate feedback, can still be employed in a team teaching environment. When planning a remote virtual course that incorporates these learning activities and strategies, 21st-century skills or competencies (including emotional intelligence, the ability to influence peers, active listening, communication skills, creative problem-solving, and critical thinking) should be considered. This paper aims to share active-learning strategies and activities to transform the learning experience and develop these competencies in the virtual classroom.
Active-learning activities in remote learning environments
Active-learning connects students to their learning process using activities that promote analysis, synthesis, and class content evaluation. In-class active-learning activities are designed for students to engage more, learn more, and accomplish more, and to provide students with informal opportunities for feedback on how well they understood the material. Some activities that we use are the podcast, the video-resume, the dashboard, the vision board, think-pair-share, real-time reactions (tweeting), and peer-review.
The podcast and the video-resume activities are great examples of active learning, collaborative work, and creative multimedia and multi-platform projects. The podcast is a different way for the students to interact and to acquire and practice team-building skills. It can help them gain confidence and literacy on the subject and gives a fresh alternative to the traditional oral report or class presentation. Communication skills, team building, organizational skills, research, and content creation skills are developed. The video-resume is a short video in which students introduce themselves to a recruiter, investor, mentor, peers and/or professor, and can be done as an introduction on the first day of class as well as a project later in the semester. Video resumes are not new, and this generation of students is often familiar with making this type of video, especially in the new pandemic reality. By doing this, they can use their creativity and emotional intelligence. Before sending the final video, they can practice with each other and fill-out a rubric where they advise on improving the presentation.
The dashboard and vision board are examples of discussion-based and project-based learning methodologies. The dashboard allows students to discuss their topics in groups and describe their problem using data. Students have to be very precise with the data collection because of the limited space in a dashboard; they have to curate the data and use graphs and tables to present their topic. Critical thinking is developed, in addition to quantitative skills and data visualization. The vision board allows students to communicate to themselves and others their brand using images, colours, textures, and words or phrases. Creativity is expressed through doing the vision board. In addition, a peer-to-peer review of the vision board is used to cultivate their emotional intelligence. In both activities (dashboard and vision board), students learn how to use interactive technology, which develops digital literacy.
The flipped classroom allows for more class participation and interaction (Ladd, 2020). Students read on their own time in advance and come to class to interact through different active learning activities. When planning a virtual course, videos, short readings, self-study activities, discussion forums, and short exercises and quizzes can also be utilized. All of these are incorporated in our course to increase independent learning, self-evaluation, curiosity, and lifelong learning skills.
We also bring social media and current events into the mix by using class hashtags. Tweeting in class is an activity students enjoy a lot because they love talking about current events discussed in class on social media. This activity requires students to communicate their ideas, knowledge, and observations, including gifs and memes. Memes are a social expression of what they are experiencing as learners in response to the class topics, and so promote creativity and critical thinking. Students do digital audits of their brand and then design a content calendar to start using social media to strategically communicate their brand (by creating a LinkedIn profile, for example). These activities promote creativity, self-awareness, and digital identity.
The use of mobile devices can be encouraged during the class session by creating course content and activities that can be seen and done using mobile devices. This can promote digital literacy and engagement, especially during the pandemic. Some useful tools in this regard include Canva, Infogram, Nearpod, Pear Deck, Kahoot, and Flipgrid.
Finally, at the end of the course, a content knowledge and satisfaction survey can provide an opportunity for students to close the loop and reflect on what they have learned. An assessment survey can provide meaningful information about the class in general. For example, an instructor can ask students for three things they learned during class, two things they considered necessary about the topics discussed in class, and one thing they still have questions about. With digital tools such as Nearpod, reflection in class can be natural and stimulating and something that students look forward to.
Reflection process and final thoughts
Reflective teaching means that educators look at what they do in their classrooms and think about why they are doing it. They think about whether what they do works for their students and themselves. Reflection allows teachers to collect valuable information about what goes on in the classroom, which is especially important with the current increase in virtual learning environments. Then teachers can analyse and evaluate this new information, identify their teaching practices, and examine the underlying beliefs on which these practices are based. This cycle of teach–collect information–analyse–evaluate–identify may lead to changes and improvements in their teaching and students’ learning. During this process, keeping in mind the development of competencies in technology, creativity, and problem solving will not only help promote an entrepreneurial mindset among students, but also prepare them for the labour market.
The reflection cycle never ends, and these processes have continuously improved the From Macroeconomics to Personal Branding course, especially during the pandemic. Students and faculty expectations are no longer incompatible with an online classroom setting. The virtual classroom can be optimized to achieve learning outcomes using technological tools, a competencies approach, active-learning techniques, and assessment surveys. Creating this cycle deepens our understanding of students’ learning experiences.
GRRASS (Ballester-Panelli & Brugueras-Fabre, 2019) is a practical model for teachers and students to plan and communicate when participating in collaborative work, as in co-taught courses or group projects. GRRASS stands for: goals, results, responsibilities, actions, standards, and schedule. First, teachers in a co-taught course set their goals for what they want to achieve in their class. Second, they define what the students can learn or achieve by the end of the course (these are the results). Then, each teacher will be given different responsibilities, for which they must complete different actions according to set standards during the course. Finally, the teachers have to decide how long they have to complete these different tasks and projects (scheduling). This GRRASS model facilitates decision-making, goal-achievement, and activity-planning.
According to GRRASS, co-taught courses depend on planning and communication; accordingly, it’s recommended that teachers share their reflections and ideas with one another as well as participate in their students’ reflection activities on the last day of class. Other recommendations include engaging students with meaningful activities, planning and practicing virtual activities, and explaining to students why they are learning the concepts they are learning and why they are doing the activities they are doing.
Ballester-Panelli, I. & Brugueras-Fabre, A. (2019, November 22-23). What do ads, the economy, films and laws have in common? A transdisciplinary approach to enhance the teaching-learning experience [Conference session]. Faculty Resource Network National Symposium: Critical Conversations and the Academy, University of Miami, Miami, FL, United States. https://facultyresourcenetwork.org/programs-and-events/national-symposium/2019-national-symposium-registration/
Carr, R., Palmer, S., & Hagel, P. (2015). Active learning: The importance of developing a comprehensive measure. Active Learning in Higher Education, 16, 173-186.
Ladd, T. (2020, October 9). Why flipping the classroom is even more important in large online courses. Harvard Business Publishing. https://hbsp.harvard.edu/inspiring-minds/why-flipping-the-classroom-is-even-more-important-in-large-online-courses
Lumpkin, A., Achen, R., & Dodd, R. (2015). Student perceptions of active learning. College Student Journal, 49, 121-133.