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The session under consideration for this report is a 3rd year sports science/technology laboratory class/practical involving around 12 students. The first semester of this module is assessed in two ways 1. In the form of a laboratory report (using data that the students collect as a group) investigating the appropriateness of running shoes designed to cushion impact forces and those designed to reduce rearfoot pronation 2. In the form of a demonstration where students must display knowledge of the force platform, and competency in using the associated computer software.
This session is a key lecture for the assessment criteria of the module's first semester. I believe that the session plan was effective in meeting the overall aims of the module, particularly with respect to the assessments. The session provides a background and instruction on how to obtain a number of the key variables that must be discussed during the student's written report and demonstrated during the force platform competency assessment.
That fact that this session was in essence a practical lesson made the session easier to administer that a traditional lecture format and made the student experience better. I believe that whenever possible straight forward lecturing i.e. standing at the front of a group delivering the content required should be kept to a minimum. Whilst I recognise that this is not always possible particularly in other disciplines, I myself get much more out of practical sessions such as this one and I believe that the students do also. I agree with the Ramsden (2003) principle that lecturing may provoke placidity and kill critical thinking, as in past sessions that I have delivered students are typically far more engaging during the practical aspect of the session.
In order to persuade the students to interact more with the practical part of the session I set them a task/question during the lesson of determining the similarities and differences in forces between running barefoot and running in shoes. This allowed students to use the knowledge and computer skills obtained during the session and apply them to a real situation. This was designed to expose the students to problem based learning a concept designed by Barrows and Tamblyn (1980) at the university of McMaster. I believe that in sessions such as this students benefit from problem based learning as unlike traditional lecturing it begins with a predefined problem and requires the student to research, select and apply information to solve it. Laurillard (1984) suggests that problem based learning helps students engage in the session and the material.
As this task required students to work as a group in order to solve a problem without a preset right or wrong answer, it gave many their first insight into academic research. This aspect of the session was designed as such, as the assignment requires an almost identical procedure (albeit on a larger scale), whereby students were required to engage with a the complex problem presented to them and determine which variables are relevant and what skills they need to gain in order to manage the situation effectively (Savin-Baden, 2000). I believe that this is particularly important given that the entire group were required to complete a 3rd year project in within the same academic year.
Being new to teaching in higher education (I am a PhD student), I frequently ask for feedback from students, which given that I am only slightly older than the students tends to be more honest and constructive than if I was older. I feel that the session as a whole went well. The majority of students appeared to understand the content of the material delivered initially and engaged well on the whole with the practical aspect of the session. I find that I enjoy teaching the required material this way, not least because students appear to learn better this way and prefer to be taught in a hands on manner where possible.
However there are several aspects to the session that I feel could have gone better and as such must strive to improve in future in order to facilitate student understanding of the module content and. Students have suggested that during practical sessions such as this one that more emphasis should be placed on the hands on doing' aspect and less on the delivery of content and instruction prior to the practical aspect.
When teaching the material I frequently asked questions, in order to ensure that the students were A. Listening and B. Understanding the content being delivered. However, during this session the student interaction to these questions was extremely poor. Silva and Moreira (2003) suggest that this is a common problem in higher education.
I would agree that during this session I spent too much time (i.e. more time than I had planned) on the actual delivery of the material due in part to the lack of interaction which I perceived as the students not understanding (which on reflection may not have been the case at all). In the future I feel that I need to find a better method of gauging whether the students are taking in the material being delivered. It may be that I must try to integrate the practical and listening aspects of sessions as much as is possible, in order to give sessions of this nature more balance.
The most important thing I have learned from delivering this session in terms of planning for future classes is that a lesson plan must cater to the range of abilities within the class. The manner in which I administered the lecturing/demonstration aspect of the session was found to be insufficient for all of the students to grasp the instruction and material being presented and may be responsible for the lack of interaction during the practical aspect of the session. This is a particularly difficult session and although students obviously prefer practical work it is important that students understand the material before moving on to this.
The process of writing this report and reflecting on my own teaching methods has been enormously beneficial for me as a new lecturer as I currently do not reflect on my teaching as effectively as perhaps I should. Furthermore prior to attendance on the teaching toolkit I predominantly judge the effectiveness of the session from my own standpoint, whilst this is important more essential is to consider the learners response when designing and implementing teaching.
During the practical aspect of the session, whilst the majority of students engaged will with task it did give some the opportunity to sit back and allow others to take charge. This phenomenon is an example of what social psychologists call social loafing (Latane, Williams & Harkins, 1979) and can be a serious issue in classrooms because it can restrict the interaction necessary for a productive learning environment. Further, if left unchecked, the conditions that produce social loafing can prevent the development of the social fabric that is necessary for effectively functioning learning groups. This is particularly problematic given that the assignment requires the students to work effectively as a group to collect and analyze data. In the future I will experiment by giving each student a specific task.
Furthermore, during this section of the session the group cohesion was at times poor which again may lead to a problem when the data for the assignment is being collected. This group is comprised of both sports science and sports technology students and this module is for many students the only time the two courses interact. Jaques and Salmon (2008) suggest that group dynamics are significantly better when the members are comfortable with one another. As such it may be appropriate to incorporate an icebreaker session to the module; although this is unusual for a 3rd year class it could be invaluable for the group.