By: Suzanne M. Swiderski, PhD
In recent years, the phrase active learning has become commonplace across the academic disciplines of higher education. Indeed, most faculty members are familiar with definitions that go something like this: Active learning involves tasks that require students not only to do something, but also to think about what they have done. Moreover, many faculty have already incorporated into their teaching activities associated with active learning, such as interactive lectures, collaborative learning groups, and discussion-related writing tasks.
However, faculty may not be aware that, from the perspective of cognitive psychology, the meaning of active learning is slightly different. According to cognitive psychology, active learning involves the development of cognition, which is achieved by acquiring "organized knowledge structures" and "strategies for remembering, understanding, and solving problems." (This particular definition is from a cognitive psychology text edited by Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, School.) Additionally, active learning entails a process of interpretation, whereby new knowledge is related to prior knowledge and stored in a manner that emphasizes the elaborated meaning of these relationships.
Faculty interested in promoting this cognitively oriented understanding of active learning can do so by familiarizing their students with such cognitive active learning strategies as activating prior knowledge, chunking, and practicing metacognitive awareness.
By: Anthony R. Sweat, PhD
The following are a few quick, easy, simple ways to engage students mentally, emotionally, or physically that do not require much planning and that you can do in almost any large class lecture. List them here and put this up in your office where you can see it to remind you to rotate these into your lectures.
- Think, pair, share (“Think about this, get with your neighbor, and share your thoughts…”)
- Concept expert (“One of you is responsible for reading [this], one for [that], and then get together and share/compare what you’ve learned”)
- Compare notes with your neighbor for clarity
By: Mary Bart
More than 400 college faculty attended the Magna Teaching with Technology Conference last month in Baltimore, and they came away with a dizzying amount of new ideas, strategies that work, and pragmatic ways to integrate technology into their teaching. This article provides a snapshot of the event’s three plenary presentations.
By: Li-Shih Huang, PhD
Educators have long recognized the importance and applicability of critical reflection across a wide range of educational settings, yet in practice it remains a challenging and nebulous concept for many to firmly grasp. In education, the concept of reflection dates back to the work of John Dewey (1933), who defined it as “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (p. 9). Dewey was the first to point out that experience alone does not constitute learning; instead, a conscious realization must occur for the experience to become a source of learning.
By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Student excuses—don’t you feel as though you’ve heard them all? “My Dad’s in the hospital.” “I’ve been sick with the flu.” “My computer hard drive crashed.” How often do students offer truthful excuses? “The assignment turned out to be way harder than I anticipated and I’ve simply run out of time.”
Adjudicating student excuses does take the wisdom of Solomon and more time and creativity than most teachers have. Some years back a faculty member wrote in this newsletter that when students reported they were absent from class or late with a paper because a grandparent had died, she sent a sympathy card to the family. Great idea but time-consuming to implement.
By: Michael Prince, PhD, and Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Fear of student resistance prevents many college teachers from adopting active learning strategies. That’s unfortunate, because these strategies have been shown to significantly increase student learning, improve retention in academic programs, and provide especially strong benefits to traditionally underrepresented student groups. Addressing two key questions may reduce instructors’ fears and increase the adoption of active learning strategies:
- Are instructors’ fears of student resistance to active learning well-founded?
- Are there effective ways to minimize that resistance?
What is student resistance and is it widespread?
From a practical standpoint, student resistance can be defined as any observable student behavior that makes an instructor less likely to use an instructional strategy. Resistance-related behaviors include passively refusing to participate in an activity, actively complaining or disrupting groups during an activity, or giving low course evaluations to the instructors who use active learning. Some authors define resistance as an affective outcome, describing it in terms of student motivation or whether students like or value the activity. But while student attitudes drive their behaviors, it’s the behaviors that faculty see. It might therefore be more accurate to think of student attitudes as a mediator of resistant behavior.
How much do students actually resist active learning strategies in practice? As with most interesting questions, the answer begins with “It depends.” How much students resist active learning sometimes depends on the type of active learning used. Active learning is not a single technique but an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of instructional practices. Some of those practices, such as “minute papers,” in which the instructor asks students to take a minute and anonymously write down the most confusing point from that day’s lecture, aren’t likely to generate much student resistance. On the other hand, active learning approaches like problem-based learning that significantly increase expectations for student ownership of their learning generate more resistance (Woods, 1994).
By: Company News
Learning science company McGraw-Hill Education today announced the results of its fourth annual Digital Study Trends Survey, offering fresh insights into college students’ preferences and habits for using technology in the classroom and beyond. The latest results, compiled by Hanover Research from the responses of more than 1,000 U.S. college students, show an overwhelming majority of students feel digital learning technology has positively affected their schoolwork – aiding concept retention and improving grades – and that more than half (53 percent) of students prefer classes that use such tools.
By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
How do students think about assignments? A lot never get past the idea that they’re basically unpleasant things faculty make them do. What does interest a lot of students is finding out what the teacher wants in the assignment, not so much what the assignments asks but more seeking insight as to what the teacher “likes.” Discover that and there’s a better chance of a good grade, or so the thinking goes. Unfortunately, very few students look at an assignment and think, now there’s an interesting learning opportunity.
By: Stacey Newbern Dammann, EdD, and Josh DeSantis
For many professors, student assessment is one of the most labor-intensive components of teaching a class. Items must be prepared, rubrics created, and instructions written. The work continues as the tests are scored, papers read, and comments shared. Performing authentic and meaningful student assessment takes time. Consequently, some professors construct relatively few assessments for their courses.