The University of Iowa

Brian Lai, Associate Professor, Political Science

Collaboratory Benefits 


The Learning Design Collaboratory offers faculty members an avenue to enhance student learning through membership in a Community of Practice, individualized Course Design Teams, and Learning Assessment.


Whether this means starting from scratch with a blank canvas, or reevaluating and adjusting certain course details, each Collaboratory experience differs based on the needs of the students and the instructors.


Joining the Collaboratory - Course Redesign Experience 


When Brian Lai, Associate Professor of Political Science, decided to join the Collaboratory, he had taught Introduction to American Foreign Policy for many years and was generally happy with the way things were going. Nevertheless, about a year ago Lai decided certain aspects of his course could still improve.


Lai’s large lectures brought together 200 students twice-a-week for 50 minutes. Over the years, his course structure and content didn’t evolve much, and he was ready to build in more interactive elements, learn more about his students, and evaluate their understanding of course material. When he heard about the Learning Design Collaboratory, Lai was intrigued.


A Team Approach


The Collaboratory appealed to Lai for two reasons: First, it gave him an opportunity to collaborate with a community of faculty across disciplines who approach student learning in different ways. In addition, he was able to work directly with Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology staff members who specialize in course design and instructional technology.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this process,” Lai says, “but I quickly discovered the discussions we had in the Faculty Community of Practice – about learning goals and objectives, student’s responses to active learning, and mining course materials—would go hand-in-hand with my work redesigning the course with my Course Design Team.”

Implementing New Course Elements 

After evaluating the structure of his course and discussing ideas with his Faculty Community of Practice and Course Redesign Team, Lai was ready to implement new course elements to help enhance student outcomes. He also worked with Center for Teaching SITA (Student Instructional Technology Assistant) staff to better understand how students interact with instructional technologies like ICON and how this important tool could help them achieve their learning goals.


Lai redesigned his lecture to include in-class activities that encourage students to think about how well they understand course material. For example, he now poses a practice test question during lecture, evaluates how many students know the answer, and then reviews with them how to arrive at the correct answer.


“Not only did I want to address the structure of my lecture during the Collaboratory experience, but also rethink the discussion sections,” Lai said. “We began to better align what was taught in discussion sections with the overall learning goals of the course, and I’ve also increased TA involvement through increased content delivery and evaluation of course materials.”


Final Thoughts 


Lai emphasizes that it can be difficult for instructors who have been teaching courses for a long time to welcome change in their course. Yet this is often an essential step toward helping students succeed.


“Even if you think the course is going well, it’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes from people who have worked hard to think about the best ways for students to learn,” he says. “If something in your class isn’t working well, talk to the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology – they will help you identify things you have never thought to explore.”