active learning in the classroom November 7

Active Learning: A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology

By:

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.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

Students collaborating in class. November 2

Understanding Student Resistance to Active Learning

By:

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:

  1. Are instructors’ fears of student resistance to active learning well-founded?
  2. 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).

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

Activities to get students thinking October 11

Designing Developmentally: Simple Strategies to Get Students Thinking

By:

I continue to be concerned that we don’t design learning experiences as developmentally as we should. What happens to students across a course (and the collection of courses that make up a degree program) ought to advance their knowledge and skills. Generally, we do a good job on the knowledge part, but we mostly take skill development for granted. We assume it just happens, and it does, sort of, just not as efficiently and extensively as it could if we purposefully intervened.


Teaching large classes. October 5

A Quiz That Promotes Discussion and Active Learning in Large Classes

By:

Educational research is full of studies that show today’s students learn more in an active-learning environment than in a traditional lecture. And as more teachers move toward introductory classes that feature active-learning environments, test performance is improving, as is interest in these classes. The challenge for teachers is finding and developing those effective active-learning strategies. Here’s a take-home quiz activity that I’ve adapted and am using to get students interested in my course content.

I teach a large, non-major chemistry course. I try to include topics such as pollution sources, alternative fuels, nutrition videos, and hometown water supplies that are relevant to students in different majors. I give a five-question quiz assignment several days before the topic comes up in class and then use it to facilitate class discussion. I want students thinking and applying course content. The first thing I ask for is a link to a recent article or video of interest to the student within the designated topic area (e.g., Find a recent article that describes an alternative energy source). Question two asks for a general understanding or definition (e.g., Is this energy source renewable or nonrenewable? Explain.). Next are questions that encourage students to interpret what they’ve read and assess its reliability (e.g., How does this energy source compare to oil and coal? Or how will this energy source help meet our current and future energy needs?). The quiz wraps up with a question that asks for the student’s opinion on the topic (e.g., Burning garbage to produce electricity is an alternative fuel—would you be happy to see your town adopt this method? Explain.).

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

TA working with small group of students. May 19

Using a Flipped Classroom Approach and Just-in-Time Teaching to Engage Students

By:

Silvia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, faced a challenge in her introductory epidemiology course, Principles of Epidemiology. She found that students needed more time to process the weekly lecture material before attending the follow-up seminar sessions with teaching assistants (TAs).

As a recipient of the Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery grant, Martins worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to develop a plan that would give students the opportunity to spend more time with lecture content as well as provide TAs with feedback on how students were absorbing the material. Over the course of several semesters Martins redesigned the course using the flipped classroom model and incorporated recorded video lectures and Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) techniques that promote the use of class time for more active learning.


students collaborating on project May 3

Actively Learning to Teach

By:

Today I had an interesting experience while teaching my biochemistry class. I had students write the Krebs cycle on their digital whiteboards while keeping track of the specific carbons in the cycle intermediates. The point of this exercise was to have students understand how biochemists study metabolic pathways and to practice writing the chemistry of the cycle. To initiate the exercise, I explained the biochemical logic of the first reaction. After that, I let them go because we had already spent a lecture discussing the reactions. This produced a fairly lively classroom with students trying to understand the flow of both carbons and energy through the cycle. While they worked, I walked around commenting here and there as needed or when I saw a misconception arising. Clearly, learning was happening. But the weird thing was . . . I didn’t feel like I was teaching.

With active learning, we often discuss the culture shock that students feel. No longer is it sufficient for students to sit listening as passive consumers of information doled out by their instructor. An active learning class compels students to become actively engaged in applying the material and uncovering the consequences of their newly learned knowledge. But for those of us instructors who never had active learning modeled for us as students, the experience can be just as alien. It can be invigorating, as it was today when my students were working hard to understand the biochemical logic of the reactions. But for me, it also felt like was I wasn’t doing my job. I was reminded of those comments on my end-of-term course evaluations: “Haave didn’t teach us! We had to learn it ourselves!”

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

tug of war May 2

Why Students Resist Active Learning

By:

The recent decades have seen growing faculty interest in learning. Increasingly, teaching is being understood in terms of how well it promotes and facilitates learning. Faculty are more familiar than ever with the evidence that favors active learning over lecture. And although many still lecture, most instructors acknowledge that they should be using more active learning. Change comes slowly to higher education, but it does come.

What hasn’t kept pace with changing faculty attitudes and practices is student interest in and understanding of themselves as learners. Student resistance to active learning is regularly reported. Part of this is resistance for understandable reasons. Active learning means more work for students. They aren’t getting a neat, comprehensive package of teacher-generated examples, but are having to come up with their own. They aren’t watching the teacher solve all the problems, but are being put into groups to collectively work on the problems. Passive learning is easier than active learning, but then passivity doesn’t always result in learning, especially learning that lasts and knowledge that can be applied.

Students also resist because active learning isn’t always effectively designed. Neither are lectures, but when the teacher drones on and the content wanders from here to there, students can tune out and pretend that they’re listening. Working with others to discuss what they need to know from the reading isn’t all that productive when group members are prepared to varying degrees and the discussion occurs without some teacher-provided context. Objections to poorly designed and implemented active learning are justified.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now


active learning project March 4

Flipping Your Classroom without Flipping Out Your Introverted Students

By:

One of the central features of a flipped classroom is the active learning that takes place within it. When students come to class having viewed a short lecture or read materials in advance, then classroom time can be devoted to engaging with that material, focusing on challenging elements, and applying what has been learned. This requires careful planning as the role of the faculty member shifts from being a transmitter of information to a designer of learning activities.

When designing learning activities for your flipped classroom, it is vital to keep the needs of all of your students in mind. Many extroverted students will be delighted to see the lecture hall transformed into a place where group brainstorming, problem-solving, and collaborative learning become the norm. For students who sit further along the introversion end of the temperament spectrum, the lecture hall perfectly suits their preferred style of learning. They may be less delighted at the prospect of change.

So, before you begin flipping, it might be helpful to consider the implications of temperament on teaching and learning. The concepts of introversion and extroversion, originally conceived by Carl Jung, have been helpful ways of understanding basic differences in human temperament (Jung 1970). Jung proposed that this critical element of our personality affects how we engage in social activity and influences our preferred levels of external stimulation. Extroverts prefer higher levels of stimulation and are typically are energized by social interaction, whereas introverts are comfortable with quiet and can find connecting with large groups of unfamiliar people exhausting. They may have excellent social skills and enjoy meaningful friendships, but are quite happy in their own company.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now

green umbrella standing out February 2

Nine Activities to Focus Student Learning

By:

Research in cognitive theory suggests that small, timely interventions in any type of classroom environment can maximize learning for our students. One approach to using such interventions would be to use them in the opening minutes of class, at the midway mark, and in the closing five minutes. The strategies, taken singly or together, can help students remember information, enhance their understanding of complex material, and understand how to transfer learning to new contexts. The strategies below can be implemented orally with individual students or in groups, through brief writing exercises, or through clickers or other classroom technology.

This is a Faculty Focus Premium Article

To continue reading, you must be a Faculty Focus Premium Member.
Please log in or sign up for full access.

Log In

[theme-my-login login_template="login-form-paywall.php" show_title=0]

Join

Get full access to premium content and archives

Join Now