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Active learning in the classroom (part 7)

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Uploaded on Jan 21, 2011

In this session, we observe a large (5 people or so) group of students working together to understand the operation of a Bettis hydraulic-actuated pipeline valve, with some questioning and explanation from the instructor. This is an example of some of the practical subject matter we explore in class: using real industry documents to analyze and understand the operation of realistic equipment. Not only does this help students understand the theory (of spool valves, in this case) better, but it also familiarizes them with industry-standard documentation and how to use these documents as learning tools.

Today was this particular group of students' first exposure to spool valves and hydraulic diagrams. This video was shot about 2 hours into the class session, and already they are figuring out the operation of this hydraulic system (mostly) on their own. Pay particular attention to the students' thought processes as they struggle to interpret and analyze the hydraulic system. They begin by identifying what is unknown to them. Pay attention also to the line of questioning from the instructor: Socratic-style questions designed to prompt critical thinking.

Working together in groups rather than listening to a lecture is a far superior way for students to build problem-solving ability, and to learn to ask good questions. The presentation of facts happens before class time, as students perform reading and problem-solving assignments prior to class (held accountable to this work by a "prep quiz" at the beginning of class). The rest of class time is devoted to building a deep understanding of the concepts, with students being free to leave when they individually demonstrate a solid understanding of the subject to the instructor. This is usually referred to in education-speak as an "inverted classroom."

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