TEAL Classrooms are both promising and concerning

Gaines 143 promotes collaborative learning. Photo by Jeremy Gould.


Mentioned in a recent Monday Morning Memo, the first Technology-Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classroom was recently completed in Gaines Hall. President Cruzado touched on some of the technological highlights, such as tables equipped with ports to connect and project up to four separate laptops onto one flat-screen monitor. Students can switch the laptop that is projected with the push of a button. The instructor can also choose a student laptop, or their own, to project onto all screens from the terminal at the center of the room.

Cruzado also described the classroom as designed for collaborative student problem solving. But what exactly does that mean? That is the question I asked when I received an email from my instructor a few days before the semester began, revealing that I had inadvertently signed up for a TEAL section of STAT 216, and would not be sitting through the same class that I had unfortunately not done well enough in during a previous semester.

There would be no textbook; the $100 monster I had used before was now an expensive bookend. The class would rely almost entirely on group work and participation. Anyone who has ever had a bad group project experience can imagine my lack of excitement and only lightly concealed skepticism heading into the class.

Now, a month into the semester, my expectations have in different ways been met, exceeded or turned upside down — beginning with the enthusiastic and sometimes aggressively friendly duo that instructs the class. By their lead we march through examples of real-world statistical problems with our faithful sidekick, TinkerPlots, a statistical modeling program. Despite adding to my skepticism by being advertised for grades 4-9, the $8 price tag was enough to get me onboard.

To my surprise, TinkerPlots has proved incredibly useful, versatile and interactive while fitting perfectly into the technology-oriented class. The combination of group activities with real-world examples and TinkerPlots leads us to unassumingly learn key statistical concepts with minimal lecturing.

Like in most courses, outside reading and homework play a crucial role, however, I find myself actually doing it, even ahead of time (in case you were wondering why I had to retake the course, this sentence contains a hint). The chief reason behind this phenomenon is that I do not want to become dead weight for my group mates. If I am not prepared, it has a direct impact on their grades, and vice versa. Peer pressure can sometimes be a useful educational tool.

For all its promising qualities, the TEAL-style class elicits some concerns worth examining. The heavy emphasis on group work and communication may deter foreign students whose primary language is not English. Since the tests are taken collaboratively as a group, in class, students who need special testing accommodations such as extended time may be presented with a unique obstacle.

Although there is no textbook to purchase and TinkerPlots is only $8, the class is stacked in favor of students who own a laptop — a luxury not all students can afford.

Though confident I am learning statistics, I have yet to use a single formula that I know exists in the discipline, and that leads me to wonder if I would be prepared to take the next level of a traditional statistics course.

It is still early in the semester, and I am interested in how the rest of the class will unfold. I believe there is a lot of promise in this style of class, but as a participant my opinion may shift as my experience continues. For now I have dubbed it “group hug stats.” Reluctant going in, but once in the thick of it, it’s not that bad.