Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Just-in-Time Teaching

Reviewed by:  Colleen Bell, University of the Fraser Valley

Part of the New Pedagogies and Practices for Teaching in Higher Education series, Just-in-Time Teaching discusses a strategy developed for use in (and out of) the physics classroom, but which, as the book so aptly demonstrates, can be adapted to any discipline.
The editors, both economists, have grouped the book’s 10 chapters into two sections: the first four chapters describe the strategy itself, as well as its relationship to a number of other strategies, including peer instruction and collaborative learning; the remaining chapters discuss how just-in-time teaching (JiTT) has been employed in various disciplines, including biology, geoscience, the physical sciences, economics, history, and the humanities.
Before I picked up this book, I had a vaguely formed idea of what might be involved in JiTT – my own daily work with students involves giving them just enough to chew on to move ahead with whatever assignment they’re working on. But in reality, JiTT is so much deeper and more complex than what I had conceived. It involves structuring students’ out-of-class and in-class activities to build on and play off of each other, and it is grounded heavily in theories of student engagement and cognitive learning; the authors in this volume repeatedly cite several key works, in particular Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000), Bloom (1956), and Chickering and Gamson (1987).
JiTT is deceptively simple. Students prepare for class by completing the assigned readings and the JiTT exercises, which most often consist of “short, thought-provoking questions that, when fully discussed, often have complex answers” (p. 6), usually due 10-12 hours before the class. In class, the instructor incorporates students’ responses to the JiTT exercises into discussion and activities that are designed to complement, supplement and extend the JiTT exercises. As the creators of the strategy note, “students enter the classroom ready to participate actively” and they “have a feeling of ownership because classroom activities are grounded in their own understanding of the relevant issues” (p. 6). But JiTT requires that instructors be able to respond quickly to whatever turns up in the student responses. For seasoned teachers, with a repertoire built from years of teaching, this may not be a problem, but for newer instructors, or those just starting out with JiTT, this aspect might prove somewhat daunting. Fortunately, the book offers many examples, and there are also resources available online.
One of the main benefits of JiTT is that it requires students to engage in deep learning strategies – to apply the concepts from the readings, personalize the knowledge in some way, and engage in metacognitive learning. Well-designed JiTT questions “are effective at uncovering misconceptions, promoting curiosity, and encouraging active student engagement in the learning process” (p. 8). It’s almost impossible to argue that these are not desirable effects.
I have two small criticisms of this book. The first is that it is overly repetitive – even though the basics of the JiTT strategy are thoroughly described and discussed in the first section, each of the chapters in the second section, where authors describe how they have applied JiTT within their own discipline, also includes a sometimes lengthy description of the strategy.
The second criticism is that it would have been nice to see more applications within the humanities. Perhaps it’s just that there are more faculty in the sciences and social sciences who have incorporated the strategy into their own teaching, but that just makes me more curious about how it can be employed in those disciplines in which it is not so common a strategy.
In spite of these criticisms, however, I found the ideas presented by the authors intriguing, and I’m already thinking about how I’m going to make use of them myself.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York: McKay.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 39(7) 3-7.

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