AVON PARK— In professor Erik Christensen’s calculus and algebra classes, students watch videos on topics they are studying before they come to class.
Along with videos or other online content, students also have to read their material at home, and when they come to class, actually do their “home work” there with Christensen at arm’s length if they need any help.
The South Florida State College physics professor, who is also the chair of the natural sciences department, does not have long, class lectures.
He instead makes his students do hands-on activities, apply what they have learned and think critically for themselves.
Is this turning classroom instruction upside down on its head?
Possibly, but the point is to make students not just active learners but help them retain what they have learned, he said.
“It’s simple to take notes,” Christensen reasoned, but if they have to participate in class and show they have read their work, it’s harder to just doodle or daydream.
Christensen’s teaching philosophy, which he put into place last school year, is part of a change in classroom instruction the college is hoping to slowly usher.
It’s part of the college’s initiative under the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) for Higher Education Student Success Initiative, and SFSC is .
Florida’s first four-year college or university to join the program.
Last year, about 20 SFSC professors, such as Christensen, got AVID training.
In August, the remaining full-time staff will start attending seminars and training programs, with the goal to challenge students and make them “full-blown”participants in class, said Kimberly Batty-Herbert, dean of arts and sciences and AVID campus liaison.
“The bottom line is to improve learning through making students more personally involved with the content of their courses. Through AVID strategies we will take the heavy lifting away from the faculty members and put it in the hands of the student,” she said.
The college is also partnering with three local school districts, Highlands, Hardee and DeSoto, that have launched AVID classes in their middle and high schools.
The federal grant helped them launch the five-year project with the goal to help educators analyze existing student support mechanisms in the classroom and counseling and tutoring practices, essential in supporting student success, the college said.
“Strategic planning and empirical data will be used to identify barriers and needs that keep younger students from being college ready, and consequently, not succeeding later in college,” a college news release adds.
While SFSC students are helping tutor some of these public school AVID students, the college also will offer new academic and mentoring services .
“Although AVID will serve many students on SFSC’s campuses, it focuses on the least served students in the academic middle who are capable of completing rigorous curriculum but are falling short of their potential,” the college said.
An AVID classroom looks different from the traditional one, Batty-Herbert explained. For example, students are frequently in small groups, exploring the course content together.
“The program strategies focus on five essential elements that create the acronym WICOR: writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading,” she said. “The reading and writing components are not about mechanics but rather critical thinking – being challenged to be more personally involved with the course content.”
“Everyone at SFSC has the potential to be impacted with this program,” Batty-Herbert believes.
“I like AVID’s holistic approach to learning. It not only addresses what happens inside the classroom but influences the services that support learning. It is transformative as it changes the way students think and respond to learning. The program is data driven, so proven results guide future decisions,” she said.
Christensen said his classes have benefitted from his AVID strategies.
He doesn’t think any of his students have dropped out because his classes were too different or tough. In fact, he maintains, his classes’ average grade has gone up by 3/4 of a letter grade-- from an average mid-C to an B, and none of his students have failed.
Batty-Herbert said the program’s ultimate goal is to implement AVID strategies in every classroom, “but we need to take it one step at a time.”
“We are appreciative of the institutional support so far because adopting a program such as this requires a true team work approach to be successful,” she said.
Meanwhile, the feedback she has received from her instructors has been encouraging, she said.
“They have been very stimulated. They’ve told me, ‘It’s about time. The students don’t know how to process information, how to think and how to critically read and write,’” she said.
For more information on SFSC’s AVID for Higher Education program, contact Batty-Herbert at 863-784-7329 or email Battyhek@southflorida.edu. For more information on AVID, visit www.avid.org.