Professors are crafting new approaches to courses across UBC campuses and students are taking notice
Neighbourhood food maps, healthier vending machines and a digital ethnobotany database are among the 28 projects completed by University of British Columbia students in a new kind of UBC course led by Assoc. Prof. Eduardo Jovel.
Rather than having a traditional classroom where students passively listen to lectures, Jovel uses class time for learning activities. When students arrive, they have already listened to pre-recorded lectures and read course materials. It’s called a “flipped classroom” and it allows for more face-to-face interaction between 300 students and 20 community organizations that participate in the course, as they explored issues around food security.
“The whole point of the class it to take what we learn in an academic setting and apply it to the real world, which I think is incredibly valuable,” said LFS 350 student Laurel Burton, who helped develop a “pocket market,” or small local food growers market, for East Vancouver’s Tyee Elementary school.
“It’s much more engaging for students to go out in the real world learn by doing. Students these days want to be active. They want to go out and do things.”
“The days of ‘sage on the stage’ are over. Flexible learning is not merely a game-changer. From now on, it is the game.” – Angela Redish
Jovel is one of many at UBC adopting new approaches to provoke intense, personal learning among students. In university lingo it’s called flexible learning. In practical terms, it’s a natural evolution in teaching methods that speaks to a generation of students who want to be actively engaged inside and outside of the classroom as well as online.
“For many students, this was the start of a journey – it allowed them to internalize issues of poverty, food security and the right to eat,” says Jovel of his course, Land and Food Systems 350.
Jovel prepared teaching assistants to use new technology and created e-lectures and a learning portal for students to access resources and report their progress in blog updates.
“Their online input allowed me to monitor what students gained from the flex learning approach. It’s satisfying to review their feedback and better understand their transformation,” says Jovel, who is the Faculty Director of Indigenous Research Partnerships.
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A leap forward
The university is committed to helping faculty members shake up outdated classroom traditions, says Angela Redish, UBC vice-provost and associate vice-president, Enrolment and Academic Facilities.
“The days of ‘sage on the stage’ are over,” says Redish. “Flexible learning is not merely a game-changer. From now on, it is the game.”
As a response to this ongoing transformation, UBC has developed 41 flex learning projects that plan to impact up to 100 courses and 34,000 students.
Redish says flexible learning will ensure UBC is in a solid place to respond to shifting demographics, funding pressures, increasingly demanding employers, and disruptive technologies like MOOCs – or massive open online courses.
If flexible learning is the game, then students like Burton are happy to play. Taking part in Jovel’s LFS 350 course opened her eyes to both the importance of nutrition advocacy for vulnerable populations and the value of active learning.
“You certainly want to learn background information and theory first,” says Burton, a student in UBC’s Food, Nutrition and Health program. “But with something like food and nutrition, which is geared towards education for food security initiatives, I think that if you’re not actively engaged and taking what you’ve learned in the classroom out into the community, then it’s not as valuable.”
Not your mom and dad’s university
Last fall, Burton threw herself into her pocket market project, working with the school to gain funding, source food from local sponsors, and sell it in a small public market, all while chronicling the experience on a class blog.
For Burton, the online aspect of the course speaks to the open-source nature of active learning where the learning process is shared with fellow students and anyone with an interest in food security.
“The blogs are public and so are our final papers so everyone can have access to this information. It’s a way to reach out to the community and for students to engage in active learning.”
The evolution has inspired many professors to think differently as well. In some cases, they are forging new cross-campus partnerships.
Allen Sens, a professor of Teaching in the Dept. of Political Science, and Electrical Engineering Assoc. Prof. Matt Yedlin teamed up and invited both Arts and Engineering students to enroll in a brave new course.
Students enrolled in Living with Nuclear Weapons: Arms Control and Verification Technologies, work in teams to review the treaty and make recommendations for improvement as well as create a public relations plan to get support for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBO). Students’ output will be forwarded to the CBTO Organization (www.ctbto.org).
Video components and quizzes help students from each faculty grasp other disciplines. Many Arts students need to catch up on math and science, and Yedlin has added tutorials to help. Similarly, many engineering students do not share common political and historical reference points with Arts students.
It’s a lot of work.
“You can’t do a flipped class unless you are 100 per cent ready,” says Sens, who estimates his prep time for this class is about 10 times greater than for traditional lectures. Preparing and shooting videos, designing in-class activities, coordinating with each other to weave the math and politics together, running mock sessions with instructors and adjusting course elements add up to an all-consuming project.
Learning in a ‘Rip-Mix-Burn world’
Janice Stewart will make full use of digital media to relate to the 600 students enrolled in the popular second-year course Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice in Literature.
To be offered in September, the re-design includes an online community created through a student Wiki, digital storytelling that uses stop-motion animation as well as six interactive learning modules.
“We live and work in a Rip-Mix-Burn world,” says Stewart who is Chair, Undergraduate Programs and Undergraduate Advisor & Chair, Critical Studies in Sexuality at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. “Flexible learning is organized to leverage students’ partial and distributed attention—21st century attention–which is about multi-tasking and serious play.”
Burton, for one, says she and her LFS 350 classmates felt the impact of active learning approach long after the class was over.
“For a lot of people, it was either career-changing or life-changing,” says Burton. “It helped students realize the importance of their education. You don’t realize the importance of it until you’re involved in the community.”
LFS 350 students capture their experiences volunteering at the UBC Farm in the Aboriginal Health Garden