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Active Learning involves an approach to instruction that focuses the responsibility of learning on the students and requires active cognitive processing (more than passively receiving information). It can be “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). However, the thinking should move beyond recall of information. Active Learning should develop students’ skills, attitudes, and content knowledge (all three) as they engage in higher-order thinking tasks such as analysis, synthesis, design, and evaluation. Active Learning requires students to do the cognitive work by reading, writing, discussing, analyzing, and/or solving problems.
Numerous studies have shown the positive impact of Active Learning on faculty productivity, student performance and student learning. Well-designed and implemented courses that are predominately organized around Active Learning are distinctive and often perceived of value.
Strategies for In-person Courses
There are hundreds of active learning strategies that can be employed when in class with students. Check out the following resources:
- 10 Strategies for Engaging Learners in Face to Face Courses – Minnesota State University
- Video Tutorials for Active Learning Strategies – K. Patricia Cross Institute (select Video Type: Active/Engaged Learning)
- Curated List of 186 Active Learning Strategies
- Active Learning Techniques for Large Classes
Strategies for Remote or Online Courses
Most active learning strategies have a remote or online counterpart that leverages technology (from cellphones to software programs) to achieve the aim of having students actively participate, collaborate, and reflect on learning experiences. Below are just a few examples of active learning strategies that can be accomplished in remote or online settings, in order from least prep time and effort, to most. We recommend if you are new to remote teaching that you initially consider implementing the first four strategies.
Pause for Reflection: Throughout a mini-lecture video, synchronously Zoom presentation, LiveRoom in Canvas (up to 500), particularly after presenting an important point or key concept, allow students to think about the information or check their notes to identify points that may be unclear. You can include comprehension check questions, asking students if something needs additional clarification.
Minute Paper: Ask students to spend a few minutes writing short responses to a question or questions meant to gauge their understanding of a class concept, and post their response. Students can share their comments live, by pasting their answers on the Zoom chat, or could post their comments afterwards, to a Discussion thread. This strategy can provide you with an opportunity to assess students’ understanding of content in a more holistic way than quizzes. You might also have students ask questions based on their minute papers during your live lecture or in a synchronous discussion/section meeting with TAs.
Muddiest Point: Towards the end of a live class session, ask students to write a short note explaining which point from that day’s class is most unclear to them. Students could then post this comment to a FAQ Discussion Thread or share during a discussion session activity. This strategy helps you better assess student learning and helps students reflect on their learning process.
Think/Write-Pair-Share: For this activity, pose a question and give students a few minutes to think about the question, write down a response, and share the response. Students then pair up and share their ideas. Pairing activities are possible on Zoom via break-out rooms that allow students to work in pairs or small groups during synchronous meetings. Students can also share via Zoom chat, email, or a Discussion Thread or Forum with other students and/or with the class at large.
“You are the professor” question creation: Assign groups to create questions that help check for understanding of concepts. Groups could create these questions during part of your live class and/or quiz other groups as part of your live class. The Poll function in Zoom makes this possible. You could also select some questions from all the groups to incorporate in your quizzes or midterms.
Role playing: Ask students to “act out” a position or argument in groups using Zoom breakout rooms or another collaborative space, to get a better idea of the concepts and theories being discussed. Role-playing exercises can range from the simple to the complex (e.g., skeptic, community member, scientist, historical figure, etc.).
Jigsaw Discussion: Divide the class into small groups, using break-out rooms, each of which is assigned a different task. Each group completes their task. Then, new groups are formed, each comprised of one member from each of the original groups (so all group members in the new group have completed a different task). Students then take turns presenting their work to the rest of the group, synchronously or asynchronously. In this exercise each student is an “expert” in one task and exposed to all other tasks.
Experiential Learning: Online content and a series of online learning activities are created to guide students, alone and in groups, to see/experiment, learn, compare, critique, share, and apply. You may want to introduce some of these activities during your live lectures and then have students report on their experiences, as they make progress over the quarter. Modified use of Google Earth can give students a sense of the location activities take place if linked to historical and current events.
-Strategies and descriptions above taken from Keep Teaching: Strategies for Instructional Resilience, UC Davis, June 2020.
Many Mines faculty members are working hard to increase active learning in their course. Click below to read about different courses at Mines that are intentionally designed to promote active learning.
Articles and Research
Brame, C. 2016 (PDF) – Active learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [11-07-2018] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/active-learning
Freeman et al. 2014 (PDF) – Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS. 111:8410–8415.
Streveler and Menekse, 2017 (PDF) – Taking a Closer Look at Active Learning. JEE. 106:186–190