by Robert J. Maloney
Teaching Adults: Evidence-Based Best Practices
In a peer instruction exercise, students learned through collaboration an understanding of the underlying concepts behind a multiple-choice question, instead of just choosing an answer, at the Monday afternoon workshop, “Teaching Adults: Evidence-Based Best Practices,” presented by Scott Carrigan, a captain with Nashua (NH) Fire Rescue. Attendees were arranged in small groups to choose the correct answer to a physics question, “If a metal rectangle with a hole in the middle is evenly heated, how does this affect the diameter of the hole? Does it become larger, smaller, or stay the same?” After the groups consulted each other, they were polled for their answers. The correct answer was it grows larger. Carrigan said the value of the exercise was in the group discussion, in which students choose answers and then explained the reasons for their choice. They were mentally engaged in seeking the answer, reasoning and drawing on their experience, as opposed to just passively receiving the correct information from an instructor. Ordinary multiple-choice tests, often used in the fire service to evaluate a student’s knowledge, he said, usually only evaluate retention of information, not necessarily a grasp of the underlying concepts.
In the “flipped” classroom concept, students review the lesson at home, and do the homework, i.e, apply the lesson through practical applications in class. Students would download and read the topic information on their computers outside of the classroom. In the classroom session, they would be engaged through demonstrations and collaborative activities to understand the underlying concepts. This is much more effective than the traditional lecture and Powerpoint presentation, which although a common method of fire service instruction, it is not the most effective, according to Carrigan. Often, “it becomes just a superficial dump of information.”