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Kevin Carriere



Engaging learning through student-centered methods

Kevin R. Carriere

Georgetown University

If there is one thing research has shown us about teaching, it’s that students are not always aware of how they learn best. This is evident in memory studies, where students continue to use less-than-optimal strategies in studying (Karpicke, 2016). Similarly, it is seen in classroom activities in which students rate lecture-based learning as the most efficient method of teaching despite discussion-lead and relationship-building teaching styles showing higher scores on retention tests (Reber, Downs, & Nelson, 2017). 

Yet, a recent survey found that 55% of classrooms still used a ‘conventional lecture’ model (Jaschik, 2018), with only 18% of classrooms emphasizing student-centered styles with heavy group work and discussions. One model of these student-centered styles is the flipped classroom. A flipped classroom introduces students to the course material prior to class and, within the classroom, expands and develops their understanding of the material through discussion, activities, and project-based assessments with continued feedback from the instructor. Course materials are often distributed through unconventional methods, such as short 20-minute video lectures, directed readings, podcasts, TED talks, and more. Courses using the flipped classroom model have shown measurable improvements in a variety of settings, including Introductory Physics (DesLauriers, Schelew & Wieman 2011) and Introductory Psychology (Roehling, Root Luna, Richie, & Shaughnessy, 2017).

Of course, using a flipped classroom method of teaching might be beyond your control as a graduate employee. However, there are numerous ways to incorporate interaction within your class. Here are a few!

In Think-Pair-Share, an instructor asks students to work on a question individually. After a set amount of time, students discuss their answers in pairs or small groups. Finally, the class comes together, and individuals share what they (or sometimes, their classmates) came up with as answers. When designing these activities, it is best to ensure that the question is not a “Yes/No” question, but rather something insightful that can generate different perspectives, incorporate different concepts, and apply to a variety of scenarios (Li & Demaree, 2010).

Debates are a great way to engage students in class material. Students can be assigned to take one of two sides to an argument and argue why their side of the debate is correct, using research that they have already learned. It helps contextualize the concepts learned in class into something more palatable to students. By assigning sides, students have the opportunity to engage in issues from different points of view while remaining in a safe class space.

Gallery Walk
As a final assessment, why not go for a stroll? Instructors can provide students with the opportunity to create a poster showcasing what they’ve learned in class on a specific topic of choice. On the “exam day” students bring in their posters and hang them around the classroom. Half of the students stand by their poster and the other half circulate around the room, talking to their fellow students and asking questions. Halfway through class, students swap roles. This enables the instructor to talk with each student about their understanding of course concepts and also to review their poster project after class is finished. By giving and hearing many individual presentations, even the shyest student can improve their presentation skills! 

If you have had some experience in using interactive methods, we at the SPSSI Graduate Student Committee would love to hear from you! Our Methodology Webinar is looking for graduate students who would like to present on novel methods of teaching that worked best for them in their classrooms. Please contact Kevin at if you are interested in contributing.

Desauliers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment science classroom. Science, 332(6031), 862-864.

Jaschik, S. (2018, April 2). Lecture instruction: Alive and not so well. Inside Higher Ed.

Karpicke, J. D. (2016). A powerful way to improve learning and memory. Psychological Science Agenda.

Li, S. & Demaree, D. (2010). Promoting and studying deep-level discourse during large-lecture introductory physics. AIP Conference Proceedings1289, 25–28.

Reber, J. S., Downs, S. D., & Nelson, J. A.P. (2017). Effects of three pedagogies on learning outcomes in a psychology of gender lecture: A quasi-experimental study. Teaching of Psychology, 44(2), 134-144.

Roehling, P. V., Root Luna, L. M., Richie, F. J., & Shaughnessy, J. J. (2017). The benefits, drawbacks, and challenges of using the flipped classroom in an introduction to psychology course. Teaching of Psychology, 44(3), 183-192.

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