The debate about ‘active learning’ seems to have been going on for a very long time, with an overwhelming view that ‘active’ is better than ‘passive’, and yet some colleagues still find some novelty in the discussion. This is now being combined with discussions about technology and mechanisms in which the active approach can be supported in the classroom. A few articles that I have come across lately offer more evidence about the potential for active learning in technology-enhanced classrooms.
Wolff et al (2015) have looked at techniques to foster engagement and encourage self-directed learning. Within their paper, they offer some useful advice such as:
- Incorporate pauses. So many sessions are stuffed full of content with no time to pause and reflect to see if you have really understood the content. Inserting a pause to allow learners to clarify points is a very simple thing to do and (importantly) has no resource implications.
- Tell a story. Many colleagues have found that the story approach provides the hook that makes students listen, and provides a structure to help recall. The oral tradition has existed throughout history, but is not often reflected in our PowerPoint-filled teaching environment.
- Draw a map. Anyone who has read my writings will know that this is one of my favourites. Converting text to diagram (or vice versa) has many benefits, and the creation of links needed within a map requires higher levels of thinking and processing.
- Learn by doing. Well I am not sure if anyone would argue against this. Doing something is always more interesting than doing nothing.
- Get a commitment. The use of audience response system is a more sophisticated way of getting students to raise their hands, and can offer instant feedback about what their peers think about a problem.
Baepler et al (2014) look at a slightly different perspective and consider the time spent to teach students. In their study, the authors found that they could reduce the amount of time that students spent in the classroom (by up to 2/3) and still achieve the same learning outcomes. So any statistics about student contact time appear to be a bit redundant. The fact that students are sitting in front of you does not guarantee that they are learning. By trading contact hours for an active learning pedagogy these authors are increasing teaching efficiency. This has important implications as active learning spaces are often not designed to pack students in like sardines (in the way that lecture theatres do), but it seems that each student may not need to spend so long in class anyway. It is an interesting one that requires more investigation. There must be some sort of relationship between degree of engagement in learning and the time required to master the ideas being addressed.
The flipped classroom seems to be the answer for many colleagues – see previous posts. See and Conry (2014) describe a model for faculty development to sensitize colleagues to the potential of flipping. Worth a look.
I would just add one caveat to some of the points raised in the papers mentioned here. Not all lectures have to be boring (see the title of the paper by Wolff et al). Some lectures are really inspirational, and they shouldn’t be lost in the rush towards flipping, or anything else. Like all teaching innovations, there needs to be some thought involved.
Baepler, P., Walker, J.D. and Dreissen, M. (2014) It’s not about seat time: Blending, flipping, and efficiency in active learning classrooms. Computers & Education, 78: 227 – 236.
See, S. and Conry, J.M. (2014) Flip my class! A faculty development demonstration of a flipped classroom. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching & Learning, 6: 585 – 588.
Wolff, M., Wagner, M.J., Poznanski, S., Schiller, J., and Santen, S. (2015) Not another boring lecture: Engaging learners with active learning techniques. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 48(1): 85 – 93.