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Just In Time Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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This approach lets us get into students minds," says Simkins, "it helps make their thinking visible." "It changes the character of the classroom," he continues. "The comments we are responding to are 'their stuff,' not my stuff from lectures or stuff from the book; so there's a different kind of involvement and a different level of involvement.


The posting below is an editorial on Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) by James Rhem, executive editor of the National Teaching and Learning Forum. It is number and is #26 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. . If you are not already a subscriber I urge you to consider becoming one. You can check it out at [] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 1 ? Copyright 1996-2005. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. (ISSN 1057-2880) All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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James Rhem


A quick and dirty description of "Just In Time Teaching" (JiTT) compares it to putting the "Study Questions" once found at the end of textbook chapters up on the Web. But there's a lot more to it. For one thing, the affect generated by JiTT differs markedly from that associated with a student pondering study questions alone in the dorm. The questions and exercises posted for students on the Web before each class meeting become the grist for that class meeting, not a quiz per se or a tidying up of understanding before getting on with the dispensing of another huge chunk of content. In this pedagogy, student questions, student understanding (and misunderstanding), student learning become the focus of instruction, and dialogue replaces lecture.


The mechanics of JiTT appear overtly simple: professors post a number of queries (commonly called "warm ups") on a course web site prior to each class meeting. Students must log on and post replies to these by a certain deadline (usually a few hours before class). Professors review the student replies before class and make the understanding, partial understandings and complete misunderstandings the focus of the class meeting. Indeed, the concepts being explored and the students grappling with understanding replace traditional lectures in JiTT, according to Scott Simkins, professor of economics at North Carolina A&T and an enthusiast of the pedagogy.

Simkins and colleagues from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) presented stories of how they are using this approach successfully in a number of disciplines at the inaugural meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Bloomington, Indiana last October. Currently, under sponsorship from an NSF grant, Simkins is examining a number of pedagogical approaches previously funded by NSF to see which have worked well and which have transfer potential to multiple disciplines. Physics, a discipline currently famous for vigorous pedagogical innovation and success, is the original home of JiTT. Originally developed by Gregor Novak at IU, it has quickly attracted a band of enthusiastic practitioners who have coauthored a book on the subject with Novak: Just-In-Time Teaching : Blending Active Learning with Web Technology (Prentice Hall, 1999).

So aside from using the Web, how does JiTT differ from simply having students read study questions and bring their own questions to class? Practitioners would say the whole latent premise of the question is misleading. For one thing, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media (1964), "the medium is the message." The immediacy, the "in timeness," the sense of personal control associated with the Web matter a great deal. They convey a message of involvement and interaction rather than a message of questioning an authority. The equality of involvement sets the stage for a far different class meeting than the serial, oral confessions of what individual students did not understand, which responding to study questions might do.

"This approach lets us get into students minds," says Simkins, "it helps make their thinking visible." "It changes the character of the classroom," he continues. "The comments we are responding to are 'their stuff,' not my stuff from lectures or stuff from the book; so there's a different kind of involvement and a different level of involvement."

As class meetings shift from being presentation and discussion of blocks of material and into an ongoing learning dialogue, everything becomes more fluid. That unsettles some professors. "Professors sometimes are not as confident about working on their feet or working without a net so to speak," says Simkins. But those who make the leap find a quality of "buy in" from students that transforms their teaching. Says Simkins: "They see you as focusing on 'them,' on their needs; they don't see you as just presenting information. You're caring about them, not just presenting information."

The deep focus on student learning so changes students feelings about the class that they report it motivates them to go further, ask questions, look things up that they wouldn't have before. And yet, as with so many felt differences, the improvement currently eludes psychometric testing. As Simkins writes: "Regress analysis of pseudo-control/treatment group exam results, controlling for demographic and academic differences among students, suggest that there is a small, measurable, positive effect on cognitive learning with JiTT-based pedagogy."

That hasn't deterred instructors at some 80 institutions from adopting the approach and setting up a website to share information about it - at

Warm Ups

Eventually, that website will post a wide range of "warm ups" from various disciplines, "warm ups" like those developed by Kathy Marrs, a professor of biology at IUPUI who presented with Simkins in Bloomington. "Subject mastery is always the primary concern of JiTT," says Marrs. Thus, "a well-constructed Warm Up assignment asks students to address open-end questions at the conceptual level and in writing." These exercises, she emphasizes, are not quizzes.

Marrs gives these examples of good ways to begin an effective Warm Up:

"What is the difference between . . . ?"

"Why do you think . . . ?"

"What happens if . . . ?"

"Do you think that . . . ?"

"Estimate how many . . . ?"

"In your own words explain . . . ?"

The big advantage of this sort of exercise over a quiz, says Marrs, is that while a quiz encourages students to do assigned reading, it doesn't necessarily get them thinking about the material beyond the level of memorization as these questions do.

Warm Ups can take on big general questions or very pointed specific ones. For example, a question Marrs asked that might be posed in many fields is:

"What is the difference between a theory and a belief? You may want to look these terms up before answering. Be as specific as you can, and give an example of each."

But a more pointed question (and some student answers) better convey the way in which JiTT exercises enliven class meetings:

"Which gender is doing more meiosis RIGHT NOW in class - the males or the females? Or do men and women undergo meiosis at pretty much equal rates? What type of cell is the end product of meiosis in men? What type of cell is the end product of meiosis in women? How many chromosomes do these cells have compared to our other body cells?"

Student replies included:

* "If I read my notes and didn't get confused I think it is the guys who are doing more meiosis, but I'm not definitely sure why. The sperm cell is the end result for the male and the egg for the female. There are half as many chromosomes for these cells, 23 instead of 46."

* "Both genders are undergoing meiosis at pretty much equal rates. The end result for men is a sperm cell and the women is an egg cell. Both of these cells have 23 chromosomes each and not 46 like other cells that go through mitosis."

* "Men and women do undergo meiosis at equal rates, but RIGHT NOW the 'female(s)' are doing more meiosis, this means you Dr. Marrs because you have a little one growing in 'the oven'!!! The end product of meiosis in men is the sperm, and the end product in women is the egg. These cells have 23 chromosomes each."

Typically Marrs and other JiTT teachers display a range of student responses anonymously to start discussion. Partially correct responses are particularly useful as "classroom discussion fodder," says Marrs. Any teacher who's faced the difficulty of dislodging incorrect prior knowledge welcomes the opportunity JiTT affords of correcting misconceptions while new concepts are still fresh in students' minds. And partially correct responses make that easier. It's not as though students have gotten the concept all wrong; their understanding just needs a little adjustment. Again, the egalitarian ethos effected by filing Web responses and having these hold the spotlight in class casts students as active learners right from the start. They come to class with an investment in understanding.

Marrs and Simkins agree that the JiTT approach creates a "positive learning cycle" with students at its center and they see few barriers to using the approach in many disciplines. Updated "study questions"? Well, kinda, sorta . . .

For more information on JiTT see:

* Gregor Novak, Andrew Gavrin, Wolfgang Christian, Evelyn Patterson, Just-In-Time Teaching : Blending Active Learning with Web Technology (Prentice Hall Series in Educational Innovation, 1999)