The Quality Enhancement Plan, JSU’s critical thinking initiative, won’t officially launch in classrooms until the fall semester of 2015. But faculty will be incorporating some of the program’s ideas into their classes as early as this year.
A basic concept of the QEP is that of the “flipped classroom”: work that has traditionally been done inside the classroom will instead be done outside of the classroom, and vice versa. A teacher may upload a lecture or notes onto Blackboard for students to listen to or read outside of class, then students will engage in some other activity and discussion in class.
“In the past, I would have gone to lecture and said, ‘What do you guys think about that? Do you think that’s an adequate conclusion?,”’ says Dr. Teresa Reed of the English department. “But I’m hoping for a more active undertaking, where I tell them, ‘You guys read the chapter. You guys watched the video. Let’s see where they diverge and where they converge. What do we do with two different authoritative texts giving us perhaps different information about things?”
Reed is one of 16 faculty mentors who will undergo extensive training during the 2014-2015 school year to prepare for the new approach. The mentors will receive training, and then train other members of their respective departments.
“My freshman composition class will be the one that I’m focusing on mainly, just to get a start, to get a feel for things,” Reed says. “Once we get professors trained on those [general classes], we can move onto higher classes. I’m hoping that by osmosis too, I can take what I learn from the freshmen and apply it to my 400-level classes.”
Assistant Professor of Computer Science David Thornton does not teach freshman-level classes, so he is not a faculty mentor. He does sit on the QEP Committee, however. “There’s been a shift over the last several years nationwide towards more project-based learning, tackling real-world problems,” he says. “We’re trying to get that project-based, challenge-based learning approach earlier in their [students’] experience. It’s not just something that they get hit with as juniors and seniors.”
Thornton says that while he is a big proponent of using the best technology available to help students learn, a tool is only a tool. All freshmen students in the fall of 2015 will receive an iPad, but that’s only part of the plan. “Giving students a device by itself won’t improve critical thinking,” he says. “It’s got to be combined with good instructional design.”
That’s where the faculty training comes in. Instructors will learn how to encourage critical thinking in their courses rather than only lecturing and spoon-feeding information to students. It will then be up to each teacher to decide to what extent they want to incorporate the new methods into their classes.
As opposed to traditional teaching methods, a good bit of responsibility for learning will fall on the students themselves. Reed says that while she hopes the new approach will encourage students to get their work done outside of class, there’s only one way to find out. “I guess that’s why it’s a study,” she says. “To see how things are going to work and how we can make them work if we find they are valuable enough to pursue.”