Graduate-level courses and programs are growing in diversity, comprised of both domestic and international students from numerous countries around the world. As such, classrooms and laboratories are becoming increasingly heterogenous in student learning preferences. Traditional lecture-based courses emphasize a ‘top-down’ teaching pedagogy, whereby an instructor teaches a lesson to a group of students, with minimal student-student interactions. More recently, supplemental instruction (SI) has arisen as a more innovative and inclusive teaching endeavor. First implemented at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) in 1973, SI is a peer-to-peer based model where students work in smaller, collaborative groups, with an SI Leader who directs discussions without deliberately teaching a lesson. SI has now been established at more than 100 institutions in North America.
Courses that offer these voluntary SI sessions have consistently shown higher grades and lower attrition rates for those students who attend sessions in comparison to those who do not. More importantly, the SI model allows students to gain various skillsets that can be applied both within the classroom and beyond. Through small-group activities, students learn to, and consistently practice, effective communication with their peers to work in unison and arrive to solutions. The SI Leader’s role is to guide students’ learning without falling back on the traditional lecture-based teaching methods. SI Leaders aim to re-direct student questions to the larger group to facilitate conversations. At the University of Toronto, SI has been implemented in the form of Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) since 2016, beginning with 3 courses, and since then is expanding to various more disciplines.
Aside from SI programs targeting small group learning and collaborative activities within the classroom, online tools to facilitate learning have become commonplace. In particular, Blackboard Collaborate provides a unique platform where students and instructors are able to utilize an online chat to communicate outside of the classroom. One component comprises of a ‘blackboard’ with a drawing tool, enabling communication beyond simple text, such as drawing graphs, plots or other schematics. Such online learning methods not only provide students with the convenience of seeking help at various times of the day outside of regular help sessions, but they also accommodate various learning styles. More specifically, students may feel more comfortable asking peers and instructors questions through an online platform than in a group setting in-person. Blackboard Collaborate would serve useful for large courses where one-on-one appointments may not be suitable.
Experiential learning programs are imperative for providing students with opportunities to transfer the knowledge acquired in the classroom to a practical setting. For example, the Applied Immunology MSc. program comprises of a course-based component, a major research project in a lab, along with several professional development and internship opportunities. Students in graduate programs in Canada also have the option to participate in the Mitacs program. Mitacs allows students to couple their graduate research with a work-term in the industry sector. The Mitacs allows students to travel abroad to pursue research internationally. Given the vast range of disciplines Mitacs covers, students may choose to couple their research with internships at organizations that align with their future career goals.
With these examples in mind, one thing is clear: to meet the needs of the increasingly diverse student population, teaching strategies should continue to evolve and adapt accordingly.
- Mitacs. https://www.mitacs.ca/en.
- University of Missouri-Kansas City. The International Center for Supplemental Instruction. https://info.umkc.edu/si/.
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