From wheat field to innovator: how BYU-Idaho is changing the landscape of higher education

Published: Sunday, Oct. 16 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

At the same time, he saw the logic of this new way of teaching and wanted to give it a shot. So he went to brown bag lunches and asked fellow teachers how they did it. One professor in his own department said he had had slips of paper with each student's name on it and would pick them out at random to teach aspects of the lesson they studied the night before. Another professor in history said he sometimes used case methods in classes to help students apply what they had learned.

Palmer decided to give it a try and within a couple weeks saw students engaging in class more, speaking out and sharing their insights. He also said by the end of the semester, students who did study before class and engaged during class were getting about half a grade higher than what he traditionally had seen.

"When you are calling on students to respond or engage in case study, it forces them to start thinking about the material before they come to class and to synthesize," Palmer said. "Reading assignments are not new, but traditionally professors rarely hold their students accountable to actually read them and students come to class and realize their teachers talk about the whole reading assignment anyway. But now students come to class with a baseline of knowledge on the subject, and we can build off this and use it as a jumping point."

Today, this approach is evident in almost every class on the Rexburg campus. During a 200 level class this June, Professor Jason Hunt led a discussion on in vitro fertilization in a course called Analytical Thinking and Moral Judgment. Prior to class, students had been asked to read about a couple having fertility problems.

To kick off the discussion, Hunt wrote the following on the board: Should they do in vitro fertilization?

He then turned to the students: "Tell me what you need to know to understand this question."

A young woman in the front of the class raised her hand. "The safety of the mother," she said.

Four other students scattered across the room followed suit before Jared Antzcak, a pre-med student who was sitting in the back left raised his hand "When is an embryo human?"

At this question, the professor stopped writing.

"Why would this be an important question?" Hunt asked the packed classroom. "Would you consider this an issue?"

Before he had the students answer, he explained how in vitro normally worked. The doctor fertilizes 24 to 30 eggs, lets them multiply for three days, freezes them, and then implants the best three.

"Now that you know this, argue the definition of human life."

By the end of class, almost every student had made a comment.

This kind of debate couldn't have happened without the students coming to class prepared and willing to participate, Hunt later said.

"We want them to feel like they'll let their colleagues down, their fellow students down if they don't prepare," said Rob Eaton, associate academic vice president who also teaches classes on campus. "So we try to create that type of environment in the class." While many who were interviewed admitted the school was still learning how to teach most effectively in a Learning Model environment, early data signaled that teachers who employed "Teach One Another" pedagogies had higher student engagement and improved student learning (see data).

Twenty-four-year-old, Carson Phillips, who sat in the back right of Hunt's class, admitted that taking more control of his own education takes more work — he studied up to several hours the night before coming to discuss in vitro fertilization. During class, other students brought up points that made him rethink his original stance. Then after class, he and his classmates argued and wrestled with the material further by making comments on a discussion board.

"Everybody has to participate and mull it over," Phillips said. "It's hard, but you get a much deeper understanding."

Antczak even said this way of teaching and learning was a main reason why he decided to stay at BYU-Idaho after being accepted to both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University in Provo just a semester in.


Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere