Ask Before Class: Using Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) to Shape How and What You Teach

iStock_000004961295LargeOne of the principles of effective teaching is to meet your students where they are.  This means calibrating your instructional pace, content level, and strategy in order to match your students’ abilities, attitudes or readiness for learning.  But how do you know what’s going on in your students’ heads before any given class session? Where are they struggling? What have they mastered?   Sometimes it’s hard to know.

Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) can help.  JiTT is a technique in which instructors post questions related to a class session or course materials on  a course management system (such as Blackboard) for students to answer before they come to a given class sessions.   Instructors can get this information “just in time” (a few hours before class) and then use students’ answers to modify a class session to address gaps in their learning, to engage students’ metacognitively about their homework, or to help students make connections and apply concepts between course topics (Simkins and Maier). The options for designing JiTT questions and prompts are limitless, and the rewards for learner and teacher are many.

Gregor Novak was one of the professors who developed the JiTT approach in the 1990’s.  His primer on Just in Time Teaching provides a solid overview to some basic JiTT strategies and stresses the distinct “feedback loop” that electronic JiTT activities provide for instructors and students.   Novak describes one JiTT he calls WarmUps–short, web-based assignments that prompt students to think about an upcoming lesson and answer a few simple questions prior to class, even if they’ve haven’t had any formal instruction on the topic at hand.  Using the responses and perceptions (or misperceptions) from students –and his instructional goals for the class—he creates a framework on which to build the in-class experience.  WarmUps “prime” students before they get to class so they are ready to engage in the activities and they’ve got a feeling of ownership because the lesson in based on their own understanding.  Instructors are then freed from a prescribed lecture and can jumpstart the class session by teaching to what students know or don’t know, what they think, or how well they’ve prepared.

This JiTT webpage at Tulane University School of Medicine delivers a useful overview of the technique and offers a nice library of JiTT websites, articles and links to allow you to explore more examples of JiTT and the supporting research. This site emphasizes the two basic pedagogical goals of JiTT: 1)to maximize the efficacy of classroom session and 2) to structure the out of classroom time.   JiTT can be seen as one route to  “flip the classroom” by more closely linking students’ homework and pre-class activities online with their classwork and engagement with us as instructors in the face to face setting.

It sounds nice, right?  But how do you get started and write an effective JiTT question and get students to buy in to this new strategy?   On May 22, JiTT author and expert Dr. Scott Simkins will deliver his keynote on JiTT as part of the i2a Institute.  Simkins is the co-author with Mark Maier of Just-in-Time-Teaching: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy.  Simkins has designed his workshop at UofL to provide time for instructors to develop JiTT questions and get feedback from peers while nurturing students’ reflective and critical thinking skills. You are welcome to register just for the third day of the Institute and attend Simkins’ talk or come for all three days.   We hope to see you there.

What intrigues you most about JiTT?  Have you tried it?  Tell us what you think. 

5 thoughts on “Ask Before Class: Using Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) to Shape How and What You Teach

  1. I do this with my graduate research class all the time. They are asked to submit a reflection on the lecture of the day and questions about the reading and discussions each week. That sets up my lecture focus every week and I can meet students where they are and help them through course content more effectively.

  2. Great question, Kathryn! I believe Blackboard would be a user-friendly, accessible way to give surveys or post questions for your students to answer as a JiTT strategy. Linda Leake from here in the Delphi Center would be a great resource for you and can show you some options for JiTT questions/surveys, etc. on Blackboard. If you send me your contact info offline, I can put you in touch with her
    -Patty Payette

  3. Kathryn – a strategy that worked in a few of the classes I took was that the faculty person posted a question or two in the discussion board, and we had to respond before class. Not only did the instrutor get a sense of our understanding of the material, but that sometimes led us to helping clarify information for our peers in the process.

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