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Active Learning

Active Learning for Deeper Understanding

No matter how they teach, all instructors assume that students are actively participating in the lesson. For lectures, instructors assume careful listening and note taking is occurring and expect that students will rewrite and study notes. For discussions, instructors assume that all students are engaged listeners, even if only a few are actively talking. Instructors expect that students will understand how to read textbooks and assignments, that they will take notes, and that they will be critical readers. For complex reasons, these assumptions often prove mistaken. To support and promote active learning and deep understanding, instructors can apply the following strategies.

Simple strategies

One-minute papers during class or one-paragraph writing assignments assigned as homework have significant benefits for interesting students in the course topics. These are especially helpful for assisting students with reading assignments. Quizzes also help, especially if students take group quizzes as well as individual quizzes. Brief small group work (five minutes or less) in which students must work intensively on a problem and then report their results to the whole class may help to deepen learning. Consider using the document camera to project student answers to problems instead of always projecting your “professional” answers. Featuring student work as part of the class lecture or discussion will result in a higher level of student accountability, quality, and interest.

More complex strategies

Complex assignments, although more difficult to manage and assess, present opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and learn the advanced thinking skills of synthesis and evaluation. Examples of complex assignments include case studies, debates, problem-based learning, collaborative projects, role plays, simulations, and service learning. Planning and managing these kinds of assignments require considerable time, and the work requires risk-taking on the part of both students and instructors. These challenges are usually worth it.

A key skill needed to incorporate complex assignments into a course is project management. Instructor and students will need to agree on methods for frequent communication, submitting progress reports, making adjustments when plans go awry, and managing collaboration. Excellent organization helps. Complex assignments will create different course rhythms and will almost always result in unexpected occurrences. With a commitment to flexibility, mutual trust,and good humor, instructors and students are likely to be highly satisfied with the outcomes of these assignments.

Recommended reading:Barbara J. Millis, ed.,Cooperative Learning in Higher Education: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy. Stylus Publishing, 2010.Available for checkout from the ECTL library-Coe Library, room 510.


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