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Active Learning At Trinity

Alumni Weekend 2017 celebrated the connections our alumni share with each other and with Trinity University. This past weekend we welcomed a record number to enjoy class reunions, participate in Alumni College, cheer our football, soccer, and volleyball teams, take a nostalgic climb up Murchison Tower, and much more. Friday's department open houses and "Fiesta with Faculty" reconnected alumni with the professors who ignited their love of learning. The weekend made clear how Trinity's strength rests on our excellence as a student-centered university.

Women entrepreneur panelists at the Alumni Weekend Trinity University Network of Entrepreneurs (TUNE) brunch

Throughout the weekend, I heard stories about classroom experiences: challenging papers, inspiring discussions, and courses that changed lives. At the heart of each story is a relationship with a faculty member who guided a student on a personal Trinity journey. Alumni recounted how these experiences gave them curiosity for a lifetime and confidence for rewarding careers. Trinity students today continue to benefit from our faculty's originality as scholars and dedication as teachers.

people collaborating in a classroom

One way to think about the Trinity student experience today is through the concept of "active learning." Across the United States, faculty are seeking to develop student skills rather than merely transmit information. The "sage on the stage" or lecture-style class gives way to "learner-centered" activities where students actively construct knowledge and understanding. The research indicates students perform better on exams and other assessments as a result of this shift. This finding holds true for Trinity students. With our low 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Trinity faculty excel in the art of teaching through active learning.

Active learning promotes critical thinking and problem solving through group work or written reflection. In humanities classes and across our interdisciplinary First Year Experience, this means a turn from memorizing the interpretations of others to the personal work of bringing one's own informed interpretation into the world. Class time serves for the discussion of a literary work, a cultural artifact, a film, or some other original source material. It's like Socratic method meets collaboration through 21st century teamwork and often through interdisciplinarity. As an aside, I can't wait to teach a class this week in the First Year Experience titled "Inventing Mexico." When the students are empowered as creators, the classroom becomes a learning experience for faculty members too. It's truly energizing.

Man standing in front of smart board writing on it

Active learning methods are particularly important for STEM fields. As an example, Trinity's biology department employs active learning pedagogies to engage students in authentic research experiences as early as the first year. It has changed the way the department views its curriculum. Newer technology, such as "light board" videos, allows material to be shared before class. When students attend class, they take a short exam to assess their comprehension. In-class time turns toward challenges identified in the short exam, group work around a specific problem or issue, and evidence-based exploration rather than passive absorption of information. The ultimate goal is to include all students in the activity of discovery and understanding.

Undergraduate STEM education in America struggles to create an inclusive climate for a diverse community of students. Traditional STEM teaching has been exclusive in those it graduated, often failing to serve equally our female students and students of color. Trinity's Collaborative for Learning and Teaching frequently holds workshops that promote active learning and other pedagogies. Recently it hosted a workshop on faculty roles in promoting a climate of inclusion in STEM undergraduate education. The "active learning" approach is inclusive; it promotes better STEM learning and paves the way for a more diverse group of STEM graduates. This diversity is a key step toward building a more diverse workplace as well as a more diverse STEM faculty for universities. Without a diverse workplace or a diverse faculty, we are limited in the ways we see the world, define problems, and achieve solutions.

Danny sitting at a desk in a classroom working in a group

Teaching is a priority at Trinity University. The Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan calls on the University to be an innovative leader for excellence in teaching and research. Through the Collaborative, faculty members engage in professional development to support student learning and contribute to the quality of inclusive teaching and learning on the campus. The results ensure student success and help to build the next generation of diverse problem solvers, critical thinkers, and leaders the world needs most.

Best regards,

Danny Anderson
President

As Trinity's chief storyteller, I love to share news about the University. But I also love hearing from you. Please feel free to contact me at TUPresident [at] trinity.edu.

You can also follow my Trinity conversations on:
Website: president.trinity.edu
Twitter: @TU_President19