Just-in-Time Teaching: The
Best of Both Worlds
Gregor M. Novak
. . it appears that how the students approach general education
(and how the faculty actually deliver the curriculum) is
far more important than the formal curricular content and
structure." Alexander W. Astin 
Just-in-Time Teaching, JiTT,
is a pedagogical technique that combines the best features of traditional
in-class instruction with the exciting new communication channels
opened by the World Wide Web technologies. Over the past five years
we have developed a teaching strategy dubbed "Just-in-Time Teaching" which
makes use of the feedback loop between in-class and out-of-class
teaching and learning. While this is still a work in progress, we
can point to dramatic improvements in retention rates and to significant
attitudinal and cognitive gains as well. Encouraged by the participants
at national workshops (sponsored by, among others, The National Science
Foundation, Project Kaleidoscope and the American Association of
Physics Teachers) we have produced a book on the subject . JiTT
is now used in over one hundred courses across the US and in a few
countries abroad. These courses span all the science disciplines
and some in the humanities. Just-in-Time Teaching will be the subject
of a Chautauqua Short Course in June 2002. For more information,
examples of JiTT materials and a partial list of JiTT adapters and
courses please visit our web site http://jitt.org.
The JiTT strategy is aimed at
many of the challenges confronting instructors and students in today's
classrooms. Student populations are diversifying. In addition to
the traditional nineteen-year-old recent high school graduates we
now have a kaleidoscope of "non-traditional" students:
older students, working part-time students, commuting students, and,
at the service academies, military cadets. At a minimum these students
face time management challenges. They come to our courses with a
broad spectrum of educational backgrounds, interests, perspectives,
and capabilities that call for individualized, tailored instruction.
They also need motivation and encouragement to persevere in what
for many is a bewildering, unfamiliar task. Consistent, friendly
support often makes the difference between a successful course experience
and a fruitless effort, and often it even means the difference between
graduating and dropping out . We are now becoming increasingly
sensitive to these issues thanks to the recent work in education
research which has also made us more aware of learning style differences
and of the importance of passing some control of the learning process
over to the students. Active learner environments yield better results
but they are harder to manage than lecture oriented approaches .
It can be argued that that the ancient method of mentoring, a student
learning under a watchful eye of a teacher, would be the best strategy
to deal with these problems. It is obviously impractical in the age
of mass education, but it is an ideal to be kept in mind. With the
help of world wide web technology, JiTT is a modest attempt at mimicking
some features of mentoring.
To confront these challenges,
the Just-in-Time Teaching strategy pursues three major goals:
- To maximize the efficacy
of the classroom session, where human instructors are present.
- To structure the out-of-class
time for maximum learning benefit.
- To create and sustain team
spirit. Students and instructors work as a team toward the same
objective, to help all students pass the course with the maximum
amount of retainable knowledge.
Although Just-in-Time Teaching
makes heavy use of the web it is not to be confused with either distance
learning (DL) or with computer aided instruction (CAI.) Virtually
all JiTT instruction occurs in a classroom with human instructors.
The web materials, added as a pedagogical resource, act primarily
as a communication tool and secondarily as content provider and organizer.
JiTT web pages fall into three major categories:
- Student assignments in preparation
for the classroom activity. WarmUps and Puzzles, discussed in this
article, fall into this category.
- Enrichment pages. In physics
we title these pages "What is Physics Good For?" - "GoodFors" for
short . These are short essays on practical, everyday applications
of the physics at hand, peppered with URL links to interesting
material on the web. These essays have proven themselves to be
an important motivating factor in introductory physics service
courses, where students often doubt the current relevance of classical
physics, developed hundreds of years ago.
- Stand alone instructional
material, such as simulation programs and Mathematica exercises.
WarmUps and Puzzles are short,
web-based assignments, prompting the student to think about an upcoming
topic and answer a few simple questions prior to class. It can be
seen from examples below that some of these questions, when fully
discussed, often have complex answers. We expect the students to
develop the answer as far as they can on their own. We finish the
job in the classroom. These assignments are due just a few hours
before class time. The responses are collected electronically and
scanned by the instructor in preparation for class. They become the
framework for the classroom activities that follow. In a typical
application, sample responses are duplicated on transparencies and
taken to class. In an interactive session, built around these responses,
the lesson content is developed. Instructors employ a variety of
techniques to analyze the student responses ranging from a cursory
scan just before class to elaborate scoring .
Students complete the WarmUp
assignments before they receive any formal instruction on a particular
topic. They earn credit for answering a question, substantiated by
prior knowledge and by whatever information they managed to glean
from the textbook. The answers do not have to be complete, or even
Puzzle exercises are assigned
to students after they have received formal instruction on a particular
topic. They serve as the framework for a wrap-up session on a particular
topic. The WarmUps, and to some extent the Puzzles, are designed
to deal with a variety of specific issues. In physics, these can
be roughly categorized as follows.
- Developing Concepts and Vocabulary
- Modeling -- Connecting Concepts
- Visualization in General
and Graphing in Particular
- Estimation, Getting a Feel
- Relating Physics Statements
to "Common Sense"
- Understanding Equations -
the Scope of Applicability
In other disciplines, the issues
addressed may range from accommodating different learning styles
to specific cognitive objectives.
In preparing WarmUp assignments
for an upcoming class meeting we first create a conceptual outline
of the lesson content. This task is similar to the preparation of
a traditional passive lecture. As we work on the outline we pay attention
to the pedagogical issues that we need to focus on in the classroom.
Are we introducing new concepts and/or new notation? Are we building
on a previous lesson, and if so, what bears repeating? What are the
important points we wish the students to remember from the session?
What are the common difficulties typical students will face when
exposed to this material? (Previous classroom experience and education
research can be immensely helpful here.) Once this outline has been
created we create broadly based questions that will force students
to grapple with as many of the issues as possible. We are hoping
to receive, in the student responses, the framework on which we build
the in-class experience. Students leaving a JiTT classroom have been
exposed to the same content as their peers in a passive lecture,
with two important added benefits. First, having completed the web
assignment just before class time, they were ready to actively engage
in the classroom activities. Secondly, they leave the classroom with
a feeling of ownership, since the interactive lecture was based on
their own wording and understanding of the relevant issues. To close
the feedback loop, the give and take in the classroom suggests future
WarmUp questions that will reflect the mood and the level of expertise
in the class at hand. Thus, from the instructor's point of view,
the lesson content remains pretty much the same from semester to
semester. From the students' perspective, however, the lessons are
fresh and interesting, with a lot of input from the class.
We have conducted numerous surveys
looking for cognitive as well affective outcomes. It is clear from
students' comments that they consider the electronic exchanges intimate
and personal. Most JiTT pages contain a space for students' thoughts
and concerns. The concerns are addressed immediately, in class, to
everyone's benefit and they are often followed by multiple email
exchanges between the instructor and the student who raised the issue,
occasionally followed by a personal visit in the instructor's office.
These sentiments are echoed by a large number of JiTT adopters, many
of whom consider the enhanced personal interaction with their students
one of the primary reasons to adopt the JiTT pedagogy.
Technology is a tool. The benefits,
or harm, derived from it depend on the use. The internet is primarily
a communication tool, as is the printing press. JiTT pedagogical
strategy makes use of the ubiquity and speed of this extraordinary
communication channel to prepare the student and the teacher for
a richer and more personal face-to-face encounter in the classroom.
The on-going feedback loop provides the instructor with a fairly
detailed profile of the student audience, both as a group and as
a collection of individual human beings with special needs. The resulting
classroom experience gives the students the comfortable feeling that
the instructor is aware of their mental state and their needs as
they unfold through the semester. While, in principle, this kind
of information could be collected on paper, the process would not
be as effective. The space and time barriers involved (when do you
collect the paper submissions and where?) would be frustrating. A
comparison with letter writing versus a telephone conversation is
not unfair. The immediacy of a telephone conversation with quick
turnaround of ideas bonds in a personal way. Similarly, bringing
to class students' responses while they are still warm creates a
dialog atmosphere where each student can feel that they own a part
of the lesson. The not infrequent email exchange after class enhances
this feeling. In the 1984 report by the Study Group on the Conditions
of Excellence in American Higher Education the following quote appears: "Learning
technologies should be designed to increase, and not to reduce the
amount of personal contact between students and faculty on intellectual
issues." To a large extent, using the internet technology in
the way it is used in a JiTT-based course honors the spirit of this
We hope that adapting a JiTT
strategy will motivate faculty to reach beyond their particular discipline
and engage in a dialogue with colleagues in other disciplines with
whom their share the responsibility to nurture a common student body.
In the current pedagogical climate that emphasizes active collaborative
learning, cross-disciplinary projects that focus on the learning
process rather than subject matter content are likely to make significant
contributions to educational reform. Today's students must be made
aware of the interconnectedness between the disciplines they study.
Interdisciplinary courses and programs are being offered to meet
these needs. The vehicle for the delivery of successful interdisciplinary
courses must be the learning process. Content, important as it is,
should be added only after the delivery process has been developed.
As noted by Astin in his book
on the college experience , when thinking about teaching and learning,
academics tend to focus on the content rather than process, sometimes
exclusively. When new technologies emerge, teachers usually ask: "How
can this help me deliver factual information from my field of expertise
better, faster, more efficiently?" JiTT asks the question: "How
can the new tool help students take more responsibility for their
own learning under mindful expert supervision?" When the teaching
and learning issue is presented this way, many faculty (particularly
younger faculty) find a lot to talk about. Comparing notes across
disciplines benefits all. The content-based interdisciplinary barriers,
rooted in the myopic emphasis on content, disappear and a physicist
can learn from a biologist. Suddenly we are reminded the object of
the verb to teach is students not physics or biology. Reading books
like Astin's helps, but it is not an absolute necessity. Just focusing
on the process of teaching and learning and away from content will
get the interdisciplinary discussion started.
- Novak, Gregor M., Patterson,
Evelyn T., Gavrin, Andrew D., and Christian, Wolfgang. (1999) Just-in-Time
Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology, Prentice
Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
- Cope, R. & Hannah, W.
(1975). Revolving College Door: The Causes and Consequences
of Dropping Out, and Transferring, Wiley, New York. [
- Hake, Richard R. (1998) "Interactive-engagement
vs. traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics
test data for introductory physics courses," Am. J. Phys. 66 64-74.
- Alexander W. Astin, (1993) "What
Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited" (Jossey-Bass
- please see Andy Gavrin's
paper at http://webphysics.iupui.edu/JITT/CATE1999.doc
- please see http://www.biology.iupui.edu/biocourses/N100/warmupscoringrubric.html
- Forinash, Kyle. (1999) "Book
Review of Just-in-Time Teaching," American Journal
of Physics, 67 (10), pp. 937-938.
- Jonassen, David H. and Grabowski,
Barbara L. Handbook of Individual Differences, Learning, and
Instruction, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993.
- Langer, Ellen J. The
Power of Mindful Learning, Addison-Wesley, 1997.
- Laws, Priscilla (1997), "Millikan
Lecture 1996: Promoting active learning based on physics education
research in introductory physics courses," Am. J. Phys. 65,
- McKeachie, W. J., Pintrich,
P. R., Yi-Guang, L., and Smith, D. A. F. (1986) "Teaching
and Learning in the College Classroom: A Review of the Research
Literature." Ann Arbor: Regents of the University of Michigan.
- Sutherland, Tracey E. and
Charles C. Bonwell, editors. Using active learning in college
classes: a range of options for faculty, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
Gregor Novak is Distinguished
Visiting Professor of Physics at the United States Air Force Academy
and Professor of Physics at Indiana University Purdue University
Indianapolis. He is co-author of the book Just-in-Time Teaching:
Blending Active Learning with Web Technology (Prentice Hall 1999.)