Using a Free-Form Lab: Chaos or Learning?

Using a Free-Form Lab: Chaos or Learning?

By Erin Hanlon
Mechanical Engineering Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Recently in my Friday afternoon class (who thought Friday afternoon was a good time to lecture, anyway?), as students’ eyes glassed over, one of them asked that we do a lab instead of the lecture that I had planned.

Having not planned a lab activity for that day at all, initially I hesitated to deviate from my carefully constructed plan. I didn’t have anything to give them to do, so how would this work? Would we just be wasting an hour of class time playing around with the lab equipment? What could they possible get out of this?

Knowing that flexibility is important (and realizing that I had already lost at least half of the students’ attention, anyway), I decided to allow the class to spend the remainder of their time working collaboratively in a ‘free lab’ setting. I gave some general guidelines so that they would be using their time constructively and using the equipment safely, but otherwise, I let them create their own goals and expectations. Once they had decided what they were trying to accomplish, I approved their plan and they started building.

In all of the previous labs that we had done in class, the students had very specific directions and measurements that were required. They weren’t coming up with suggestions or designing their own experiments.

When working during their free lab time, students were allowed to set things up and see how they worked differently when changes were made. They had the chance to notice how the decisions that they made based on their previous coursework altered their outcomes. They were also forced to justify their choices and think about the decisions that they were making instead of strictly following the steps provided to them.

I found that using a free lab approach provided a valuable lesson in problem solving and hypothesizing that was missing from the previous lab exercises. Students were able to exercise their system design skills and see that it wasn’t just plopping together a bunch of pieces to see what works. This was a much better representation of what technicians or engineers would be doing in the ‘real world,’ and having them get a glimpse of that in the classroom was very valuable.

This is a lesson that I will implement with intention into future courses. I believe it was successful in providing hands-on learning in a format different from what students were used to being exposed to and more realistic to what they can expect in the future.

Student-Centered Learning for Librarians

Student-Centered Learning for Librarians

By Michelle Marshall
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

As a librarian, it is my hope to apply what I learn about teaching and instruction to the informal learning environment in which I work every day, namely, the library.  The challenge has become how to apply concepts such as “student-centered” and “active learning” to a reference interview or to a one-shot information literacy session.

In my search for examples of how to do this, I recently read an article titled Authenticity and Learning: Implications for Reference Librarianship and Information Literacy Instruction by Kevin Michael Klipfel. Continue reading

Paper or Plastic?

By Justin Strader
Automotive Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

Paper or Plastic?

Analog or Digital?

What does the future hold?

Justin, what the heck are you talking about? Good question. Well, I’m not really talking about grocery bags or electrical signal patterns. I’m talking about test taking believe it or not Continue reading

Forward Thinking for the Over Fifties Like Me

By Stephen Taylor
Science Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

Do you think that teaching is all about standing at the front of a class telling them how it is?

Do your technical skills stop with working an Elmo projector or a Betamax video?

Do you have gray hairs – come on really do you (salt and pepper counts too)?

I’m not saying that you’re old or behind the times, but, come on – a Betamax!

This little article is your path to eternal youth, well almost. I’m going to tell you all about something called Quizlet. Continue reading

Working Towards Better Classroom Discussions

Working Towards Better Classroom Discussions

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

I’ve always been amazed by good discussion leaders.

You know, the sorts of people who can ask just the right questions at just the right times to just the right people in order to evoke participation from an entire room.

Maybe it’s just because I don’t have much time to practice leading discussions. Despite what you might imagine, we don’t have much time for discussion in my English classes – we’ve got too much writing to do! It might be a different story if I taught literature, but my classes are pretty much focused on research and composition.

Now, my faculty development classes generally offer more room for discussion. Though, since I’ve never seen myself as much of a discussion leader, I tend to shy away from them in favor of other instructional strategies.

Recently, though, I decided it was about time to start thinking about working towards getting better at leading discussions, so I did what any bookish introvert would do: I started reading.

Now, this post isn’t going to provide an in-depth literature review of my research on classroom discussions. Instead, I’m going to give you a quick overview of two of the sources I have perused and then share a guide that I created for myself as a tool for leading better classroom discussions. Continue reading

The 4 Step Lesson Plan

The 4 Step Lesson Plan

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Were you thrown a new course a week before it starts? A day before?

Or maybe you have been working as a microbiologist in the field for decades and decided it was time for a career change. You know every thing that there is about the subject matter, but you’ve never received any formal training in how to teach.

Or maybe you’ve been teaching the same prep for years and have gotten to the point that your lecture notes have yellowed to the point that they are illegible, and you’ve decided it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

In this post, I want to share a simplified framework for planning your lessons that should help you in any of the above situations and more. The goal of the 4 step lesson plan is to ensure that our lessons are doing more than just covering content – that they are helping students to meet the course objectives in measurable ways. Continue reading

Young Ernests Show You How to APA

Ish Stabosz - DJ

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Last semester, I began a new learning activity in my ENG 102 course: having students teach the class.

This is nothing new to academia. I remember my college years. Continue reading

5 Low Prep Student-Centered Learning Strategies



By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Sometimes, it’s easy to fall back on lecture or other teacher-centered instructional methods when crunch time comes. You’ve got a ton of grading to do, reporting deadlines to meet, and 1,001 emails waiting gloomily in your inbox.

There’s just no time to plan an engaging lesson.

Well, if you find yourself in such a situation, or if you are just looking for inspiration, here are five student-centered strategies that take very little prep time and can make a traditional lecture much more effective.


Instead of asking a question to the class and staring at blank faces until you call on that one go-to student at the front of the class who always has the right answer, try this.

  1. Ask a question or give a problem.
  2. Give everyone a chance to write down the solution on their own for a few minutes.
  3. Give students a few minutes to discuss their thoughts with a peer.
  4. Ask a few students to share their answer with the class.

Think-Pair-Share transforms an awkward Q&A into a chance for the entire to class to participate in the type of wrestling with a problem that your discipline involves. As an added bonus, students will share more deeply and more freely in front of the rest of the class if they’ve had time to think on their own and confirm their answers with a peer first.

The Minute Paper

It doesn’t have to be exactly one minute, sometimes two or three are okay. But the idea is that at the end of a lesson (or even in the midst of it) you give students a small amount of time to write down everything they know about the topic of the day in a focused manner.

For example, at the end of a lecture on the difference between summarizing an article and analyzing one, I might tell students “You have two minutes to explain to me how your approach to reading this article will be different if I am asking you to analyze it. Go!”

The Minute Paper serves as both an assessment for you (to gauge how well students absorbed the lesson) and also as summarizer for students (to solidify skills in their memory).

Concept Maps

A concept map is a visual depiction of how different ideas relate, like this:


Before a lesson or lecture, give students a list of 10 or so key terms, ideas, etc. that you’ll be working on today. Write them on the board or put them on a handout so that everyone can see them. During the lesson, have students draw a concept map to show the relationship between all of these terms. Encourage them to take other important notes in the white space on their map as well.

Priming Questions

If you are going to be lecturing or providing direct instruction, it’s a good idea to prime your students for the material by activating their prior knowledge. One way to do this is to use the first 10 minutes of class to allow students to think through a problem that the lecture material will help solve.

Think about why this material matters and pose a stimulating question to students. Give them a few minutes to write about their thoughts (even better, do a think-pair-share).

For example, if you are planning a lecture on capitalism for a political science class, you might ask students What do you think our society would look like if everyone was paid the same amount? Would you want to live in it? Why or why not?


A full scale debate might take a lot of prep, on your part and the students’. But, you can replace parts of a traditional lecture with a short mini-debate. Instead of lecturing on a topic that might normally take 20 minutes, pose the question addressed by your lecture to the class.

Then, divide them into two or more teams, and assign each team a different perspective. Give them 10 minutes to research (in the textbook, on Google, etc.) all of the evidence that supports their assigned position on the topic. Then give each team 3 minutes to defend its position.

For example, if this blog post were a class, I might pose the question Is student-centered learning worth your time?.

If your last name starts A – M, your on Team Red.

If your last name starts N – Z, your on Team Blue.

Team Red = Student-centered learning IS NOT worth your time.

Team Blue = Student-centered learning IS worth your time.

Defend your position in the comments. Go!

See what I did there.


Is Learning a Job?


By George Cognet
Department Chair, Computer Information Systems
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

I have been in the field of technology for over 33 years. Although some may call it work, for me, it is not.

Instead it has been 33 years of having fun, playing with “new technologies”, and getting paid for it–call me a geek.

Continue reading