A.S. Sayyad

Student-Centered Active Learning (SCAL) is gaining momentum as a method to ensure best use of class time in science and engineering classrooms by focusing on the intended learning outcomes rather than the traditional focus on coverage of material via lecturing and homework sets. SCAL is not the same as the Flipped Classroom approach, where the students are expected to read the material or watch lectures at home and then solve problems in class. SCAL utilizes class time to introduce the material by engaging the students in exercises that aim at two things: 1) to discover new concepts by bringing out misconceptions that might have previously been held by individual students, and 2) to gain practical skills in design and problem solving.
This study presents the results of student surveys which evaluate the students’ experiences with various teaching/learning methods, and show a clear advantage for methods that depend more on active learning within the class, and student one-on-one discussions, while the students thought least of slide-based lectures and homework problems.

Method of gathering data:
The author used a mix of teaching and learning methods in a senior-year course in Computer Architecture, with a total of 78 students divided into two sections.
At the end of the semester, the students were presented with a survey that asked them to rank the teaching and learning methods according to how much they felt they had benefited in learning. 54 students participated in the survey.

The students were asked to rank the following methods, which has been used with varying recurrence during the semester.
1) Listening to a lecture with optical projection slides.
2) Listening to a lecture where the instructor writes on the whiteboard.
3) Self-reading from the textbook.
4) Self-reading from the lecture notes/slides.
5) Solving homework problems.
6) Solving problems in class and then the instructor discusses the solutions with the class.
7) Solving problems in class and then discussing the solutions with a peer before the instructor discusses the solutions with the class.
8) Working on problems in small groups in class.

With regard to self-learning methods, the results show a clear advantage for solving problems in class, and discussing the solutions among the students before the correct solutions is presented and discussed with the class. Small-group discussions were also favored. Least favorite were the methods that involved working at home, whether it was self-reading or solving homework problems.
When it comes to lecturing styles, the students clearly did not like optical projection slides as a method of lecturing. They preferred a lecturing style that relied on writing on the whiteboard.

The author supports a hybrid teaching/learning method that includes:
1) dividing class time into periods with varying styles of lecturing and student work to avoid boredom and disengagement.
2) student classwork that aims at both discovering the concepts and gaining the intended skills that will be measured in the exams.
3) Short but recurring homework that emphasizes the learned skills and concepts and prepares for upcoming classes.
4) Allowing students to learn from their own mistakes and to learn from their peers in class, which is shown to benefit more than the limited time that an instructor can allocate to each individual student during the class or the office hours.