One of the courses I'm currently taking involves a VERY non-traditional process for in-class activities and learning structure. This class is traditionally one of the more difficult, even when taught in a traditional manner. The educational method for this class involves two phases. Phase 1 is assigned readings to be completed before class, an in-class quiz, group discussion and a group quiz over the same questions without access to course materials to discern the correct responses, and a brief instructor-led review of topics which frequently consists of diagrams from the text with little additional explanation. Phase 2 consists of readings or brief case descriptions involving a patient presentation of the related concepts from phase 1 (graded), a group activity to connect concepts and case presentation, a group quiz with questions from the case presentation, an entire class response time where we use "clickers" to record our group decision and receive group grades and sometimes a brief instructor-led discussion. Inherent in the grading is also peer-evaluation where the group members rate performance and contribution. There is also a contribution of the traditional written exam grades which is about equal to everything else listed above.
This course has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among students who feel that the instructors have completely abdicated teaching and evaluation duties and are not enhancing student understanding of this traditionally difficult material. I can honestly tell you that I retained zero information from the first several rounds of this process and spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to be prepared then separately trying to learn the information required for the written exam. A group of concerned students met with the faculty to attempt to understand how we were being graded, what the goals of the process were, how we could enhance our learning and what type of help they were willing to provide. This has been interesting because it resulted in additional information on what the intended goals were as well as persuading the instructors to provide us with additional information in the form of on-line lectures and the topics we need to connect between the case presentations and related concepts.
Today was the first time I felt like I've learned anything from this process. I read material before the quizzes last week, I listened to the online lectures and worked through my incorrect quiz responses from phase 1. I read the case presentation, found and worked through the concept connections and feel like I might actually understand how the material relates to the case. We'll see if that holds up tomorrow during phase 2 but I feel more optimistic about the process than at any point during the first 13 weeks of class.