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Overview of Active Learning

Before a conversation about active learning strategies, it is useful to develop an operational definition of active learning for the purposes of this group. One definition is: to provide students the opportunity to make choices and take actions that assist with the development of concepts or applications (Zull 2002). With an operational definition, it is now easier to consider different strategies and how they lead students towards active learning, which can include developing case studies, problem based learning, and simulations. Some common resources for strategies that get students involved with the learning process are:

  • Classroom Assessment Techniques 2nd Edition
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques

These books (available in the CELT Library) are often recommended because they provide multiple ideas with many easy to conceptualize and create activities for individual students or small groups. They provide great advice for these activities and include caveats to consider before implementing. The Classroom Assessment Techniques 2nd Edition includes a Teaching Goals Inventory, which will help the instructor determine the best Classroom Assessment Technique.

In 2004, the IDEA Center produced this document written by Virginia Lee, a past president of the POD Network, about ways to get students engaged in the learning process. In it she emphasizes the importance of having students think like professionals in the discipline, which engages students in the material because they are able to see the relevance beyond the classroom. The document also contains tips on how to implement active learning in a classroom, including starting small, persist even if things do not go perfectly, seek advice, and be willing to revise activities.

The University of Buffalo, along with the National Science Foundation, has developed this website to promote the use of case studies in the teaching of science. Within this site is a case collection that is easy to search using keywords, subject headings, educational level, type, or topic area. All members of this group are encouraged to search this collection for a possible case study that could be implemented. If a case study is not available, a sample case study may prompt you to develop a case study that would be appropriate.

This article is a nice synopsis of what needs to happen in a problem based learning experience. Even though the article is in a medical journal and has a medical training background, the article still highlights ideas that will help the instructor. The article emphasizes how problem based learning works well in a group work situation including assigning students to specific roles within the group. The article provides suggestions for writing problem based learning scenarios such as: the objectives of the scenario needs to align with the course objectives, the scenarios are appropriate for the curriculum and student content knowledge, the scenarios are interesting to the students, there are cues to guide discussion and that the scenarios are open enough for multiple points of discussion.

The variety of simulations is evident by looking at this Wikipedia site. Simulations can be simple or difficult to set up, technology intensive or low tech, involve many people of just a few. It is up to the instructor to determine the level of involvement required in the simulation. Simulations can be a powerful way to engage students in the learning process because the simulation permits them to learn from mistakes, work with others, and apply course content in a situation that is possible outside of the classroom.

Zull, J. E. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Stylus; Sterling VA. (p. 63)