active learning activities
Gary Ackerman, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Mount Wachusett Community College, works with faculty to incorporate active learning into their online and face-to-face courses, and while there are differences in these learning environments, active learning can be implemented just as well online as face-to-face.
Passivity still seems to be the norm for most college courses: students passively try to learn information from teachers who unwittingly cultivate a passive attitude in their learners. As the subject matter experts, many faculty are reluctant to give up some control. We know the material, there’s a lot to cover, and let’s face it, going the lecture route is often just plain easier for everyone. We “get through” the material, and students aren’t pressed to do anything more than sit back and take notes. Teacher and student thus become complicit in creating a passive learning environment.
The explosion of educational technologies in the past decade or so has led everyone to wonder whether the landscape of higher education teaching and learning will be razed and reconstructed in some new formation. But whatever changes might occur to the learning environments we construct for our students, the fundamental principles according to which human beings learn complex new skills and information will not likely undergo a massive transformation anytime soon. Fortunately, we seem to be in the midst of a flowering of new research and ideas from the learning sciences that can help ensure that whatever type of approach we take to the classroom—from traditional lecture to flipped classes—can help maximize student learning in our courses.
How often do you hear the following sentiments from students?
• “I won’t ever use anything I am learning in this class, but I have to take it to graduate.”
• “I don’t care about this class. I just need a passing grade.”
• “I can’t remember anything I learned in that class.”
Granted, not all classes cover interesting material—or at least material that’s of interest to students who may be there only to fulfill a requirement. While we can’t change what needs to be taught, we can change how we deliver it. If we make the right adjustments to our course design and teaching methodologies, we will hear less complaining in our classes. So, what can we do to achieve higher levels of student satisfaction and long-term learning that lasts far beyond the end of our class?
Those who teach in the health disciplines expect their students to retain and apply every iota of learned material. However, many students come to us having achieved academic success by memorizing the content, regurgitating that information onto an exam, and promptly forgetting a good portion of it. In health, as well as other disciplines where new material builds upon the material from the previous semesters, it is critical for students to retain what they learn throughout their coursework and as they begin their careers as a nurse, engineer, elementary teacher, etc.
The March 12, 2014 post raised issues about those students who really don’t want to work with others in groups … “lone wolves” as they’re called in the literature. Your responses raised a number of issues. I thought it might be worth exploring some of them a bit further.
Many of the comments defended the lone wolves, pointing out that their good academic performance could be compromised by having to work in a group. Did anyone comment about those social learners (whose existence is also well documented in the research) who do well working in groups? We require those students to spend time listening and learning alone, experiences that potentially compromise their academic performance.
We recently asked a group of teaching assistants, “How do you think today’s college classroom is different than when you were an undergraduate student? What is the most significant change you’ve noticed?”
The number one answer? Technology.
Many instructors will argue that student participation in class is important. But what’s the difference between participation and engagement? What does good participation or engagement look like? How can you recognize it? And how can you tell if a student is not engaged?
When I was in college (for 12 years I might add) there were really only three sources of information available to students: 1) Instructor 2) Textbook 3) Library. This was not such a distant past. A mere two decades ago I finished my undergrad, and I graduated with my PhD in 2001. I don’t think learning, or even how we learn, has changed all that much since then. But what has changed is access to information and how that access might actually distract from learning.
Online instructors face the challenges of keeping a course up to date, engaging students, and maintaining integrity. Having students generate some of the course content can address all three of these challenges.