University of Wisconsin–Madison

U-CLaSS: What facilitates student learning? (Sep 2019)

September 2019’s U-CLaSS (Undergraduate Chat, Learn, and Share Space) featured students sharing ways to improve faculty-student relations at UW-Madison.

The topic: “What best facilitates your learning in the classroom?”

The students: ~120 Student tutors and mentors.

Thoughts on how instructors present material:

  1. Prefer instructors who write notes as they are talking, rather than just showing slides, and those who draw graphs in class, rather than just present still images. Do not rely only on PowerPoint. Writing on the board slows you down, which gives us time to take notes and absorb the material. Encourage us to take notes, don’t just provide slides, and don’t just read the slide. Taking notes keeps us engaged.
  2. Write bigger.
  3. We learn better when we can see what you are saying, not just hear it.
  4. Provide demonstrations, especially in STEM courses. Present a topic, and then show us in real life what that looks like and then summarize the information.
  5. Work through problems on the board during lecture.
  6. Provide time to work on problems during class.
  7. Provide real world examples for discussion, or real world problem sets, and then relate the lecture back to the problems. Show us how the abstract relates to reality. Provide relevant examples. Provide solutions to problem sets.
  8. Make sure we have access to examples. Make sure you show us how to apply what we have learned.
  9. Homework should simulate type of content on exams.
  10. Asking us to write 1-2 minute summaries is useful.
  11. Provide more than one way to learn the material.
  12. Provide low stakes opportunities to practice before an exam.
  13. Look at us, not just the screen, board, or your laptop.
  14. Encourage general question and answer sessions. Don’t let students stay quiet. Model question asking.
  15. When an instructor presents material in a step by step fashion, don’t skip steps or assume we understand every step ahead of time.
  16. Video can also be useful for step by step instruction.
  17. Active learning!! 

Thoughts on what students can do in a class:

  1. Classes where I actively participate in learning, not just listening to lecture. Going beyond lecture only helps students to pay attention in a course.
  2. We learn better when given the opportunity to ask questions.
  3. When we can engage in project based learning.
  4. Encourage group work. Provide time for group work during class.
  5. Offer breaks for students to discuss what was just presented in lecture. Gives us time to figure out questions we might want to ask.
  6. Provide an opportunity to practice what we will need to know on an exam, before we take the exam.
  7. Hands on learning. Give us a chance to do it ourselves. Project based learning.
  8. Provide pair and share opportunities. This builds camaraderie, and also bonding: “I’m struggling too.” Gives you a chance to identify what many of us might be struggling with in the course.
  9. Providing peer feedback is also useful.
  10. Active learning!!

Thoughts on instructor traits and behavior:

  1. Enthusiasm!
  2. Come join us at our level in the classroom rather than stand behind a podium.
  3. We benefit when an instructor doesn’t assume we know what they think we know.
  4. Professors setting aside time for question and answer session if they don’t want their lecture interrupted.
  5. Active learning!!
  6. Motivation, tell us why we need to learn this!

Thoughts on what technologies in the classroom best facilitate learning?

  1. Some students prefer document cameras for writing and projecting material, other students prefer actual chalkboards or whiteboards.
  2. Standardization of technology if possible.
  3. Response systems help, especially in large classes
  4. Students found TopHat useful, but wish it was free.
  5. Students also like Kahoot.
  6. Piazza works well.
  7. Video allows us to re-watch if we have questions. Prefer to watch longer videos outside of class. Reserve class time for short video clips instead.
  8. The Wiscel rooms that allow you to see material from different vantage points rather than just one screen in front of the class.
  9. Depending on class size and speaking voice, professors should use a mic. Some professors don’t realize that students can’t hear them.
  10. Bigger desks, some desks don’t provide enough work space.
  11. Classroom structure that allows students to work together in groups of various sizes.
  12. Lecture capture. (Allows the material to be reviewed.)