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  • guest editor's note
  • Bob Smallwood (bio)

In this special issue of jge: The Journal of General Education, five research articles by faculty at the University of Alabama examine the impact on student learning of their efforts to heighten active or collaborative learning activities in their courses. These initiatives were prompted by the University of Alabama's Quality Enhancement Plan, designed to strengthen student learning in large first-year-level courses. Each of the authors redesigned a first-year course to give even greater attention to actively involving their students in learning activities and working collaboratively to accomplish assignments.

The lead article, written by the University of Alabama's executive vicepresident and provost, Judy Bonner, sets the stage for these five scholarly examinations by characterizing the overarching focus at the university as a student-centered research institution where students engage with the institution, with each other, and with their learning and where faculty focus time and attention on being the best teachers they can be to ensure student learning.

In her article, Rasma Lazda-Cazers describes how she redesigned her course Germanic Mythology using a collaborative wiki. She details how her students created a learning content wiki and their responses to the experience. Students had to obtain technological literacy and enhance their research skills. They had to learn how to (a) use a wiki; (b) find, paraphrase, and reference appropriate sources; (c) collaborate with peers by communicating ideas and building consensus where needed; and (d) accept the openness and fluidity of wiki content by giving up ownership of individual pages. The instructor had to (a) learn how to use a wiki, (b) grapple with an initial feeling of loss of power over content and course, (c) establish guidelines for the creation of learning content, and (d) come up with a system for the assessment of the diverse wiki entries, as well as for the evaluation of individual contributions to the wiki as an entity, such as discussion threads, editing, and proofreading. [End Page vii]

The Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama offers a signature innovative course entitled Arts and Values: An Introduction to American Studies. It has traditionally been taught as a lecture course for 230+ students, primarily in their first year. It is a team-taught, multimedia intensive lecture course in which all tenure-track and tenured faculty participate, assisted by four graduate teaching assistants. The principal research question examined by Lynne Adrian in her article is whether small interventions involving active learning experiences will produce greater results in overall student learning than might otherwise be predicted.

Celia Lo redesigned her general education social science course to include additional active and collaborative activities with the goal of assessing the attitudes of students about classroom-based collaborative activities and the impact of these experiences on student learning. The study employed qualitative and quantitative measures of student learning that assessed students' content knowledge, critical thinking, and communication skills.

In their article, Kotru, Burkett, and Jackson describe the impact of a variety of new active and collaborative learning instruments introduced in their electrical and computer engineering course. Their course was restructured to include multiple active and collaborative exercises aligned with newly written course learning objectives and program outcome assessment measures. An additional laboratory experience in creativity was introduced where the engineering students worked collaboratively in small groups to design and build lamps from musical instruments!

Regular, timely, and thorough assessments of student learning are key components in a student-centered approach to learning. Fink and Mankey introduced a problem-solving template in their course designed to enhance critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in physics instruction. Their article advances a methodology of instruction that integrates various aspects of both problem solving and conceptual learning. The grading scheme of the template facilitates integration of the knowledge structures needed for students to become expert problem solvers. The template outlines a path for homework, in-class quizzes, and examination problems.

Taken together, these five research and scholarly articles illustrate the depth and breadth of innovative educational practices occurring across discipline offerings at the University of Alabama. Students are not passive recipients of dis-seminated information. They are actively involved in their learning...


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pp. vii-viii
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