Active Learning Fellows: Gennifer Weisenfeld on Working in Teams

During the summer and fall of 2015, the CIT led the Active Learning Faculty Fellowship.  Nine faculty from a variety of disciplines shared experiences and learned about using active learning techniques in their classrooms.

In this guest blog post in our series about the Fellowship, Gennifer Weisenfeld, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, describes new activities she used in her course after participating in the Fellowship.

If you are interested in getting ideas to bring more active learning into your own class, contact the CIT to talk with a consultant.

Weisenfeld_Portrait Photo_ColorSince participating in the Active Learning Faculty Fellowship this past summer, I have been integrating a range of new teaching strategies into my Japanese Architecture survey this semester, including think-pair-share, gallery walks, focused listing, one-minute muddiest point papers, and team-based learning exercises. I have also implemented a modified flipped classroom technique where I provide class handouts and all Powerpoint images in advance of each session along with targeted questions related to the readings and images. This has made students more responsible for learning the materials and preparing outside the classroom, leaving much more time in class for discussion and activities. It is an understatement to say that this has been utterly transformative in terms of the lively and active engagement of the students. It has certainly renewed my love of teaching in a way that I never expected, and I do not feel like I have had to sacrifice any depth or breadth of content.

One exercise that I thought worked particularly well was a team assignment related to Japanese garden design, which was a topic we covered over two sessions. In the first session I lectured on some of the basic principles of garden design and different typologies. The second session, students were divided into teams, and each team was assigned one of three garden types.

  • TEAM 1  Courtly/Elite pleasure gardens
  • TEAM 2  Buddhist paradise gardens
  • TEAM 3  Zen gardens

The teams were asked to list all of the key formal and conceptual characteristics that they associated with their type of garden. Then each team explained these characteristics to the other teams. After this, each team was given a packet of six numbered images of gardens and asked to observe and list key characteristics of each garden, and then to venture a guess about which type of garden each was, circling the letters A-C or filling in their own suggestion as D. At the end, teams were asked to display their selections on index cards for each image for everyone to compare. For three out of six, the teams all got the same answers, but for the other three, one team varied from the group for each. Although one might expect that this was a disappointment because students did not all initially get the correct answers, it was exactly the opposite. This divergence provided a great teaching opportunity for students on the divergent team to explain their logic for their choices and for the other teams to explain their rationales. As a group they were able to come to a consensus—essentially teaching each other—but they were also able to understand the ambiguity and overlap of some of the garden types. It was an amazing learning (and teaching) experience that reinforced the material in both a fun and interactive way.