Authority, Expertise, and Active Learning in the CS Classroom
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Active learning is a teaching practice that involves students in the learning process as more than mere passive listeners, and there is ample evidence of its benefits. Learning is placed more in the hands of the students rather than the teacher, and this affects the authority relationship in the classroom. Authority is commonly defined as being in power by virtue of one’s position or title. Authority has also been defined by virtue of expertise. While the topics of authority and expertise have been discussed often, this work extends the discussion to an active learning environment in a Computer Science classroom. This study examines both authority and expertise in the context of an active learning space and observes the role that the two play in a tutorial session. The data used for analysis consists of video recordings of a lecture and four tutorials for an introductory programming course in an Australian university. The lecture and one tutorial are led by an instructor, whereas the other three tutorials are led by hired or former student tutors. These have been analyzed individually as well as comparatively, scrutinizing student participation and exchanges in the classroom (between student-tutor or student-student). Through detailed analyses of the recordings, this work comments on the effect of authority and expertise on the behavior, interaction, and active learning environment in a CS tutorial. While both authority and expertise significantly affect classroom interaction and participation, authority also impacts the student-tutor relationship and overall classroom environment. When the tutor is someone more like a peer, rather than someone in an authority position, students form a friendly and informal relationship with the tutor. The general classroom atmosphere is conversational and students collaborate on tasks. Moreover, when the tutor demonstrates expertise in the tutorial material, students ask fewer questions and seem to have a better understanding of the concepts. They are also able to work independently, building their own solutions. We make additional comments on the significance of authority and expertise in active learning.