I decided to give the instructional strategy “Classify” a try, as proposed by Barkley in Student Engagement Techniques.
I’m currently teaching a course about occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS), which culminates in an international certification exam. With the exam a few weeks away, and the content now covered, I thought this would make a perfect active learning opportunity for my students. Now that they’ve learned the component parts of an OHSMS they should be able to make a determination on how those parts relate to the whole.
As I started creating the list of component parts, based on the 21 learning objectives in the syllabus, I got a bit carried away. I began to realize what I was envisioning was a concept map. Since I was planning a collaborative effort for this activity, this strategy seemed to be morphing into a “Team Classify Concept Map”. I was OK with that.
A former manager once described one of my weaknesses as “too meticulous”. I see what she was saying now. I was definitely hating my decision at this point. This can obviously be a lot less time consuming in the future, but this lesson was really important to me.
It was time well spent. I had a huge chunk of a whole bunch of inter-related components of an OHSMS for the students to chew on. It would be up to them to figure out the relationship between them and graphically organize them in a way that made sense.
In small groups, students worked with a piece of poster paper, coloured markers, and a set of the classification components. The purpose of the activity was explained, a goal was set, some suggested models of graphic organization were presented, and off they went.
While there was definitely some pain and confusion during the 90-minutes that students spent trying to come to terms with an entire semester worth of information, the results were pretty stellar:
Overall, I was pleased with the value of this activity – it was worth the time I spent making it happen. I felt like there was a good balance of expectancy and value and the active learning strategy had students engaged for 90-minutes. All levels of cognition were being used as I overheard students evaluating, synthesizing, analyzing, remembering, understanding, and applying what they’ve learned to create the finished product.
It was summed up perfectly by a student who openly reflected about the activity:
“What we did was just like a management system: We planned our approach; We carried it out by pasting everything onto our model; We checked it with you to get some feedback; and now we can act on what we learned.”