I observed an upper level biology class, in which the teacher is applying a combination of collaborative (team-based) learning, problem-solving approaches, discussions on "what-if" scenarios and student-teaching.
Below you will find a general overview of the class, a crude analysis of reasons for various successes and problems, and finally a more detailed analysis of things to address in this particular class.
The class atmosphere was congenial and the students were actively engaged in discussion. You have clearly developed a format where students participate in"authentic" discussion and understand theiraccountability to that discussion and to their peers. The learning environment is impressive for an upper level course of this size (~30).
Students themselves give the class overwhelmingly high marks. Nearly all the students are working harder in this course than in any other. Nearly all find the approachinterests them more in the material, and roughly two-thirds feel they are learning more material, learning it more deeply, and learning better communication skills in the process.
What's Working, What's Not--and Why
Students very much appreciate the chance to be engaged in "real" problems and analysis of complex situations and "what-if" scenarios that challenge them to think. Some of this seems to be enthusiasm for an upper level course, but much of it also seems to draw on your free-wheeling style (versus pre-planned lecture) that explores each situation opportunistically. Roughly half the students feel the course can succeed mostly because of what they have learned earlier in other classes: in this class they develop a deeper appreciation of the context and connections of concepts they've already learned, while also acquiring a deeper conceptual understanding. Some students wanted to encounter this approach from the outset of college, but others felt the need to have something to build on first. Your specific style in this class may thus be tailored only to upper level classes. I suspect (from the cross-section of comments) that stronger students respond more favorably, while those less experienced in organizing information want/need a bit more structure.
Students enjoy being able to ask questions (and feel the freedom to do so). While students take substantial notes from the reading and in preparing material in small groups, during class discussion they learn more from the dialogue itself and from recurring examples. There is an important "learn-by-doing" component--suggesting that what is learned (if learned) will be more permanent.
Students report that they invest considerable time in the course--probably the major reason they are learning more material. So motivation is key. It appears that the most significant factor is intra-group accountability. They respond to "peer pressure" and to the system of rewards that promote contributions to other members of the group and coming to class prepared. They readily...