Nov. 18: Profs to share active-learning success stories

By Richard H. Miller, Academic Outreach & Innovation

PULLMAN, Wash. – Two WSU professors are getting remarkable results as they reinvent the traditional classroom—and will share their experiences at the next faculty-led workshop.

Engaging Students in Active Learning will be held at 12:10 p.m. Nov. 18 in CUE 518, and will also be live-streamed. Lunch will be provided. Please register here.

Clinical Associate Psychology Professor Dee Posey is the undergraduate program director for psychology, a member of the WSU Teaching Academy, and a winner of the 2014 CAS Excellence in Teaching by a Clinical Faculty Member award.

Posey uses a flipped classroom format to teach statistics to psychology students, some of whom, she said, “don’t understand why they have to take the class.” To increase engagement, she has them review brief recorded lectures and do other outside work, then discuss topics during class time.

The discussion groups mean students are “constructing their own knowledge,” Posey said. “They’re learning through using, as opposed to me just lecturing them.”

Posey worked with Psychology Professor Samantha Swindell to measure results of the flipped format. “The flipped format enhanced student performance, especially among the mid-range, ‘C’ and ‘B’ students,” they concluded in a May 2105 report to the WSU Provost’s Office. They also found that “students rated the flipped format as enjoyable, improving their learning of course content, and preferable to the standard format.”

Redesigning a 400-student course

Associate Professor William B. Davis is associate dean for undergraduate education. In 2012, he was selected as a Vision and Change Leadership Fellow, and has received training in scientific teaching from the National Academy of Sciences. That training helped him restructure his 400-student freshman biology course.

“I do learn-before-lecture activities,” he said. “All my PowerPoints are posted a week in advance. The students have to review that material, and do an online daily quiz before they walk in the classroom.”

He then uses clickers to find out what they know, and what they don’t. “Using clickers, I get instant feedback,” he said. “That’s been transformative.” He also uses model-based learning, and project-based laboratories. “They’re doing real science,” he said, which greatly increases their motivation.

Data show impressive results

Data from his classes show significant improvements. Attrition has dropped from 10-15 percent to 2-3 percent. The failure rate dropped from 38 percent in fall 2014 to 22 percent in spring 2015. Attendance has increased.

“The high end students were already succeeding, so they didn’t change that much, but the pass rates are up by about 40 percent for students in at-risk categories,” Davis said. “It’s a huge change.”

Davis offers this caveat: Make sure students understand why you’re not using the traditional lecture format. “Be as open as possible about what you’re doing and why,” he said. “Set up the right expectations in the students through transparency: Communicate repeatedly what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what students will get out of it.”

The result, he said, is a more dynamic learning environment that fosters dialogue and empowers students to ask questions.

“We can use active learning to dig deeper and really start to connect knowledge,” he said. “It gets students to the application, analysis and synthesis levels of learning.”


Richard Miller, WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation, 509-335-5711,