Faculty Innovator: James Hollenbeck, School of Education

28th March 2024

By Steven Krolak

Indiana University 2030 Strategic Plan icon for student success, showing an outline of the two graduates in cap and gowns.

James Hollenbeck, professor of science education, has pioneered a multi-modal approach in his secondary methods course that enables students of differing abilities, constraints and even locations to take part in the same class–often at the same time–and continue their learning journey.

Everything, everywhere, all at once

By now, the world knows that classes may be conducted via various channels: face-to-face or in person, online interactive, or in some combination of the two.

The multimodal approach offers all three options–at once.

For example, Hollenbeck has taught courses in which the students were beaming in from three different IU campuses. He has even used the approach to conduct an international seminar with students in China, Pakistan, and the U.S.

While alternatives to face-to-face teaching became widespread, and eventually obligatory, during the pandemic, Hollenbeck had already been experimenting with a multimodal approach for years prior to sustain learning during weather events or personal health crises that precluded students from attending class on campus.

Dr. James Hollenbeck

He even presented his ideas in a paper at a conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2019. With a plethora of subsequent experience to draw on, Hollenbeck has co-authored papers with IU Southeast colleagues Dr. Sumreen Asim and Dr. Faye Camahalan in 2021 and 2022.

For Hollenbeck, the benefits of a multimodal structure are twofold. First, it is more responsive to the real-life needs of students.

“Teaching in the multimodal method, allows students the flexibility of their attendance, allows students who are unable to attend class because of distance, family obligations, including childcare, health constraints or home campus not being able to offer the class, to take the class,” Hollenbeck said.

The method also enables Hollenbeck to address individual learning differences in a more nuanced way. For example, the visually and hearing impaired, can adjust the picture, focus, and volume on their computer screen, or turn on closed captioning if needed, to participate fully.

“The class can take advantage of a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses in delivering learning for better understanding,” Hollenbeck said.

From learners to teachers

The secondary methods course examines techniques and skills that candidates can use to organize and manage their classrooms, present materials, and evaluate student performance.

For Hollenbeck, science teachers begin as science learners, so he integrates a review of recent research literature and an examination of current teaching technologies into the course. Students must create lessons that demonstrate the application of inquiry and processing skills through lessons, labs, and presentations.

The multimodal approach is built into this complex class, with owl-eye classrooms allowing students to join from anywhere, and cell phones enabling them to gain proficiency in filming and posting their own laboratory experiments for synchronous and asynchronous use by their classmates.

With student cohorts now habituated to multimodal approaches, the results are positive. For Hollenbeck, the most important result transcends grades.

“This course offering enabled three students to graduate, one student to care for her newborn, and one in another time zone to hold on to their job and avoid a one-and-a-half-hour drive to attend class,” Hollenbeck said.

Redefining the classroom

Student feedback reveals another advantage to multimodal learning: community.

By broadening the scope of participation in the class, Hollenbeck can assemble a more diverse group of students, who learn not only from him but from one another, making them ultimately more complete and responsive educators.

“Each of us was in a different school, district, discipline, or even level of experience, so I was able to learn a lot about how different schools operate, how they deal with things in their classrooms, or how various content areas work and what kinds of things they do differently,” one student said. “It allowed me to see things from different perspectives and opened my mind to new things.”

The same applies to Hollenbeck, a restless innovator whose early embrace of emerging technology has redefined the scope of his classroom.

“The world is truly our campus,” Hollenbeck said.

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