2020 was the year of the great pandemic of our era. We were warned but were not prepared for that. Everything was turned upside down and this included higher education, of course. Suddenly, concepts like online teaching, streaming, synchronous and asynchronous, and telepresence became oddly familiar. Many courses got interrupted and the adaptation to online teaching had to be instantaneous. This was also the case for the 'Workshop on active educational methodologies' organized at the University of La Laguna with support from the FEBS Education Committee in September 2020. The objective of this course was to create an environment to exchange experiences with active learning methodologies between professors. Four professors at the University of La Laguna and the University Autónoma de Madrid were put forward to lead on each of the four modules of the workshop covering different learning methodologies. The most interesting challenge was, without any doubt, experiencing in our own workshop the adaptive changes that were happening in higher education. It is not the same discussing how higher education adapts to online teaching than making the workshop participants experience those changes. This is, in fact, the key point of active learning: learning by doing. At the end of the day, workshop participants practised active methodologies adapted to online learning in an online learning environment. The workshop used the same online platform and resources that were used for lectures at the University of La Laguna and the lecturers organized their sessions the same way they would be giving their lectures at the university. This made the workshop contribute not only to active learning methodologies, but also to adaptive changes to online teaching.
As noted above, the workshop was structured into four different sessions covering four active methodologies. Each session took place in a different day from 9:00 AM to 14:30 PM, offering the participants a working environment of five hours together with the lecturer. The plenary activities took place in a Google Meet session where all forty registered participants could attend the presentation of the lecturer. However, in order to facilitate practical sessions, we separated the participants into five groups to which we assigned specific Google Meet sessions to work on solving the questions proposed by the lecturer. The idea of this structure was to generate a working session as similar as possible to the active methodologies covered in the workshop. Again, learning by doing. The four different active methodologies we focused on were flipped learning (flipped classroom), peer evaluation, designing a practical lecture protocol as a project-based methodology, and service-learning.
The first session was dedicated to the methodology of flipped classroom. This session was led by Enrique Quintero, professor of the Department of Internal Medicine, Dermatology and Psychiatry of the University of La Laguna. Enrique has applied this methodology to his Degree of Medicine lectures and he has found an increase in student satisfaction with respect to the courses before the implementation of flipped classroom. The objective of flipped classroom is an exchange between the role of students in the classroom and at home. Traditional lectures imply a passive role from the student in the classroom and then requiring an active role while at home to understand and to apply concepts to problems proposed by the professor. This makes lectures look like the flipped version of how logic tells us they should actually be. Flipped classroom proposes to leave for the student at home the more passive work of watching videos and reading the material, while the active work of solving problems is done together with the professor in the classroom. This methodology is especially useful in subjects with high practical content.
A second session was dedicated to a project-based methodology applied to laboratory practical lectures. Juan Arredondo, from the Department of Biochemistry of University Autónoma de Madrid, showed the workshop participants how letting the students of practical classes design their own protocol could be very instructive. When a practical lecture is presented to the students with a protocol to follow as a recipe, it is easy for them to succeed in the practical part without gaining any deep knowledge of the process. However, if the students must design the protocol they will follow during the practical session, it is virtually impossible to succeed without deeply understanding the process. Many professors would see this as impracticable, but Juan Arredondo showed in the workshop that this is perfectly feasible and he presented some advice on how to implement it.
The third session covered the peer evaluation as an active learning methodology. This module was given by the writer of these words. The main objective of continuous evaluation is to provide the evaluation process with a formative character. The students have the opportunity to learn from the evaluation and to respond to the feedback provided. It is clear that under the focus of active learning the best way to make evaluation formative is by engaging the students with their own evaluation process. Two main strategies that allow this are self-evaluation and peer evaluation. The second approach provides additional value by getting to know the work of their colleagues. The main concern that many professors have against this methodology is the perceived lack of maturity and impartiality of the students to be able to make a fair evaluation. Nevertheless, when certain conditions are satisfied a fair evaluation can be guaranteed from the students. The key points to achieve this are the double blinded evaluation and the use of a closed rubric. To be fair, this methodology is very hard to implement without decreasing the satisfaction of the students with the evaluation. But, if done right, their satisfaction could be even higher than from an evaluation provided by the professor, with the bonus of a very instructive evaluation for the students.
Finally, the last session was about service-learning. This session was led by Francisco Javier Amador from the Department of Economics, Accounting and Finance at the University of La Laguna. The main objective of this methodology is to provide an additional value for society from the learning process in higher education. Public education is itself a service for society, but it is common for the university and the society to be disconnected. Professors focus on their bureaucratic routine, getting away from the challenges of society that the university aims to solve. On the other hand, society might not feel that the university can provide any additional value other than providing degrees. Learning-service is one way to bring closer university and society. The idea is to design student activities that require participating in social projects. From the students' point of view this experience connects the knowledge acquired in the subject with real social problems and, from the point of view of the society, the university is presented as an agent that may provide solutions.
Altogether, the experience from this workshop was very fruitful for both participants and lecturers. Participants learnt from the lecturers' expertise and could practice and discuss the different methodologies during the workshop. And lecturers obtained a lot of feedback from the participants. This leads me to my conclusion from this experience: the more the participation in this kind of workshops becomes routine for higher education professors, the larger the increase of the quality of higher education will be.