Teaching & Learning Center

The Center for Teaching and Learning in ORT Braude was established according to the college vision and strategy of “cultivating excellence in teaching and research and emphasizing a personal connection to the individual".

We live in a society where fast technological and organizational changes require rapid adjustment and independent learning. At ORT Braude we believe that imparting learning and thinking skills will improve the ability of our graduates to face future challenges in their professional and personal lives.

Two main goals of the Teaching & Learning Center are improving student study skills and improving the teaching skills of the faculty.

The various projects the center operates offer students helpful learning tools, particularly for reducing drop-out rate of first-year students, and providing lecturers with the necessary support to enhance their instruction proficiency.

Activities for academic advancement of students
  • Mandatory courses for developing learning & thinking skills for freshman students
  • Team-leaders project: peer-lead study groups of active learning
  • Dynamic assessment to improve learning skills according to Feuerstein's theory
  • A center for technology support
  • A program for underachievers

Activities for improving teaching

  • In-service training for lecturers: courses and workshops
  • Guidance and support for new faculty
  • Pedagogic support for veteran lecturers on demand
  • A forum for students' academic advisors

Additional activities

  • College faculty seminar at the beginning of each academic year
  • Conferences regarding the promotion of learning in higher education
  • Center for active learning
  • Research activities for assessing the center's programs

Courses for learning & thinking skills
The center’s expectations are that imparting learning and thinking skills will improve the graduates’ coping skills with engineering studies and reduce the drop-out rate of students. Moreover, imparting self-learning skills will improve their ability to integrate into the workforce.

All first year students are required to take a course in learning strategies. There are various courses offered, and each student is asked to choose one of them according to his interests and needs.

Some of the learning skills courses are given with an emphasis on various engineering contents. Introducing the skills courses as part of the engineering studies in the college constitutes a changeover in the perception on the role of the College as an institution that prepares engineers for a world which operates in a rapidly changing and developing reality. The courses were either developed or adapted to our students' needs by the faculty of Ort Braude College.

The courses currently being offered:

  1. Instrumental enrichment (according to theory by Prof. Reuven Feuerstein): Developing thinking and learning procedures; raising student's awareness of his thinking processes.
  2. Creative mathematical thinking Learning mathematical topics with an emphasis on creative scientific thinking, designing a mathematical tool box for coping with problems.
  3. Academic learning skills Coping with increased learning pace, self-discipline, techniques for efficient reading of texts, memory improvement, efficient learning, and stress before exams.
  4. Learning how to learn – for students with learning disabilities Imparting learning skills and strategies for students diagnosed with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder.
  5. Algorithmic problem-solving skills Stages of problem-solving, breaking a problem into sub-tasks, analogical thinking, abstraction, developing a tool box of solutions, recursive thinking.
  6. Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) Imparting thinking tools that enabling management of analytical process, of raising new ideas in different domains in an ordered and conscious manner.

Team-leaders project
Among other measures aimed at advancing the students’ learning capability the College has fostered the “Team Leaders” method, developed in Rochester University (NY, USA). In the team- leaders' project, high-achieving students ("leaders") guide workshops aimed at supporting first- year students in courses with high rates of failure. Many students face major difficulties in their first year, owing to learning habits that are insufficient for meeting academic requirements.

The workshops are supervised by the courses' instructors and supported by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the college. The workshops target active learning, gained through collaborative problem solving in small groups (10-15 students) where the climate is free of competition, judgment or criticism.

Preliminary findings of an evaluation study show high satisfaction expressed by the students participating in the workshops and their improved performance, and that the project contributed to both the student leaders and the courses' instructors. Since its 2006’s inception the workshops have been reaching more and more students. As of now almost 20 groups are active across all the disciplinary departments.

In-service training for lecturers
The center provides seminars, workshops and courses for lecturers to improve their teaching methods and to develop additional professional skills.

The center offers study days and short in-service training courses for lecturers to assist in introducing new syllabi, and new teaching methods and technologies. Emphasis is put on both personal and professional development of the staff.

At the beginning of the academic year a full day is dedicated to lectures and workshops on teaching and learning, and the lecturers have the opportunity to discuss various aspects, and compare experiences.
In the last two years the staff was invited to a variety of ongoing study groups, dealing with specialized areas, like Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT); Instrumental enrichment in academic studies based on Prof. Feurstein's theory and method; rhetoric; group work; improvement of class atmosphere; working with students with learning disabilities; teaching styles; producing effective presentations; development of thinking, etc.

Pedagogical support for veteran lecturers
One of the means that the center provides for the lecturers for improving their teaching is a process of pedagogical coaching by another lecturer. The goals of the coaching are to identify and analyze difficulties in teaching a course, and formulating ideas to deal with them. The center offers coaching to lecturers when the feedback they received in the course indicated low rate of satisfaction by the students.

The coaching includes observation by the coaching lecturer of the lessons and a joint discussion on various issues raised in them such as, course organization, specific difficulties of students, the atmosphere in the course, coping with different constraints imposed by the course on the lecturer and on the students, and other pedagogical aspects.

The coaching lecturers come from the Teaching Department specializing in teaching science and technology, and other experienced lecturers from the Engineering departments.

Lecturers' peer-evaluation
Lecturers’ peer evaluation is a tool for evaluating the teaching quality of a lecturer in addition to the existing tool of students’ feedback. The evaluation is used as a tool to improve the teaching method of the evaluated lecturer as well as of the observing lecturer. In addition, the teaching level of a lecturer is one of the criteria in the decision making process regarding his promotion in the college.

Guidance and support for new lecturers
In the absorption process of new lecturers the college operates a support mechanism. Its goals are:

  •  Introduce to the new lecturers the college procedures in order to ease their integration as lecturers in it
  • Strengthen the sense of belonging of the new lecturers to the College in order to increase their level of activities there

The process includes first, a meeting of all the new lecturers with the primary position holders of the department in which they are presented with the credo of the college, main procedures, and the existing services for faculty and students, and second, a personal ongoing contact with the head of the program over the year for answering questions and solving problems.

A program for underachiever students
An academic dysfunctional student is identified as an underachiever student who accumulated failures in several courses, thus his dismissal from the college is being considered. The need to handle academic dysfunctional students rose following findings indicating that it encompasses a large population of students.

The course of action tested to date on around 30 students included locating students who have academically not functioned over two consecutive semesters yet, the department is willing to give them another chance. In order to identify the student’s difficulties and the possible reasons for his failures, the course of action incorporated: (a) collecting personal information on the student (previous background, grades on the matriculation exams and the psychometric test, grades in the College, and the opinions of the academic advisor and the head of the department); and (b) an extensive personal interview with a professional person.

Following the analysis of the information collected on the student, he was offered several options available in the college in order to cope with his difficulties, such as, tutoring students and tutoring lessons, skills courses and workshops, personal guidance and psychological consulting, guidance to alternative study fields, and more…

Currently, an additional test is being done on students that are dysfunctional academically after one semester; in particular, the courses in which their grades are the lowest are being reviewed. The aspiration is to provide support for the students at the early stages in order to promptly improve their academic situation and to lower the drop-out rate among the students that have good credentials and chances to succeed.

The Center for Active Learning
With the goal of improving its teaching practices in science education, the center of active learning aims at implementing teaching principles which have proven effective, such as incorporating demonstrations in teaching, answering conceptual questions through the use of personal feedback, giving short and limited (20-minute) lectures, small-group learning, peer teaching and structured problem-solving. These methods mean that the lecture is replaced with a classroom workshop, in which the students sit near several roundtables. The lecturer is situated in the center of the classroom. For most of the lesson, the students work on specific learning tasks which deal with problem solving and laboratory investigations.

Fig 1: The design of the active learning center
The class functions as a research group, in which different teams give reports about their work and results. The role of the lecturer focuses on planning the learning environment, activating the students and giving effective real-time feedback. The classroom learning activity is supported by a computer network between the lecturer and the students as well as between the students themselves. This network allows for retrieving tasks, presenting computerized models, presenting problems, giving feedback, establishing discussion groups, and the like.

Additional projects and activities

A center for technology support
An Assistive Technology Room was established to provide study assistance for disabled students, or other students with special needs.

Dynamic assessment (by Feuerstein theory)
The center is using the dynamic assessment to improve learning efficiency and to prevent drop out as well as an aiding tool to accept students with border line credentials. This tool contains a process of assessment and learning at the end of which it is possible to predict the ability of the assessed student and improve his learning skills. The assessment increases the student’s awareness of his own learning method, characterizes his learning behavior, and tests his capability. Based on the results of the assessment the student integrates in a course appropriate for him or in other supporting facility that the college has to offer.

A forum for students' academic advisors
The forum of academic advisors at the college was founded in order to assist and support the lecturers that serve as students' academic advisors. The adviser role is to reduce students' failure due to unsolved personal issues or undetected learning difficulties. The forum of around 20 faculty members meets several times a year to discuss common problems or acquire new knowledge and skills. Among the issues raised are: students' learning disabilities, personal communication between an advisor and individual students, interviewing methods, and more.

Research and assessment of center's projects

Research of skills courses
The goal of the research is to examine the effect of the courses on the learning and thinking skills of the students and on their achievements. The contribution of the course for the student was checked according to his perception and his implementation methods of the strategies and knowledge that he had acquired in the skills course in learning engineering course. Further, the research documented the process of integrating the courses in the college with the intention of improving them and adapting them to the students’ needs.

It was found that most students felt that they have benefited from the various courses, especially from learning strategies that could be implemented right away (time management, learning methods, preparation for tests, etc.). Most students claimed that they have used the learning skills they had acquired in the engineering courses.

Team leaders’ research
The goals of the research are to assess the rate of success of the project and to follow its performance in a way that would lead for recommendation to proceed with its application. The research included identification of perceptions and opinions of lecturers and students involved in the project, a follow up of the achievements of the students that participated in the project, and comparing them to the students who did not participate in the workshops, as well as documentation and assessment of the actual implementation of the project.

The preliminary findings of the research show high satisfaction of the workshops expressed by the participating students, the team leaders and the course teachers. The team leaders show high level of responsibility and personal involvement. They feel great satisfaction from their ability to contribute their experience, improve their instruction skills and even strengthen their knowledge. The students report on improvement in comprehension of the material and a sense of self confidence. The courses’ instructors feel that they have benefited from understanding the students’ difficulties from their interaction with the team leaders of the groups they instruct.