Active Learning

Thad Polk, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology, offers practical advice for promoting student engagement in a large gateway courses. He also discusses research findings on student learning that have led him to adopt these innovative teaching strategies.

 

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Collage of pictures showing students working in groups, raising their hands, and writing on flipchart paperFaculty and GSIs from across campus are invited to explore our newest resource dedicated to active learning. At CRLT, we work every day with instructors who are committed to engaging their students actively both inside and outside the classroom. As Michael Prince explains, “Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing.” (Prince, 2004). Research from Prince as well as a number of other sources (Freeman, 2014; Hake, 1998; Ruiz-Primo et al., 2011) indicates that having students actively engaged increases learning outcomes across disciplines (Ambrose, 2010; Bonwell & Eison, 1991). This new resource showcases the diversity of active learning techniques used by instructors at U-M, from the humanities and arts to STEM, from small seminars to large lectures, to demonstrate not just what active learning is, but how it works in classrooms right here on campus.

The website includes:

  • Reflecting on Your Practice: We designed this inventory to help you identify areas in which active learning could be used in your classroom and to suggest opportunities to build on strategies that you already use.
  • Implementing Active Learning: Integrating active learning can be beneficial to student learning, but it does come with some challenges. We share tips and techniques for integrating active learning strategies while avoiding common pitfalls.
  • U-M Faculty Examples: In these brief case studies, U-M instructors share how they use active learning in specific courses, as well as how they have refined their approach over time. From large Physics lectures to small Screenwriting seminars, these examples span the range of complexity and diversity of approaches to engaging students.
  • Resources: This section includes discipline specific resources and the research that speaks to the efficacy of active learning. 
  • Share your Example: Are you using active learning in your classroom? We would love for you to share your examples, as we hope to grow this resource to include even more voices in the conversation.
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Faculty Name Joanna Millunchick
Course Materials Science and Engineering 220
  • Muddiest Point Evaluation
  • Video Resources
  • Lecture Replay

Introduction

Joanna Millunchick noticed that students were entering her MSE 220 introductory course with wildly different amounts of preparation and prior knowledge, and preparation directly impacted course performance. She devised a system of muddiest point understanding checks to determine which concepts were unclear, and then created screencasts to supplement lectures.

Active Learning in the Course

At the end of each lecture, students submit a quick Google form survey explaining which, if any, concepts from the lecture or homework they found unclear. Millunchick then looks for concepts where 30% or more of the students expressed confusion, and creates a screencast to illustrate the idea. This can take the form of an extra homework problem with the solution narrated on screen, or a few lecture slides with explanation of a foundational concept that had been referenced in lecture. Students can access these videos via the course website, and refer to them while completing homework or reviewing for exams. Read more »

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Faculty Name Brenda Gunderson
Course Statistics 250
  • Large Lecture Engagement
  • iClicker Comprehension checks
  • Think-Pair-Share

Introduction

Statistics 250 is a massive class, with approximately 2000 students enrolled each term.  It is complex from both a logistical and instructional standpoint. Brenda Gunderson has incorporated active learning techniques and supporting technologies to facilitate student learning and ease burdens on the faculty and graduate student instructors. Students can build a course experience to best suit their own learning, ranging from interactive lectures and reviews, recorded lecture and review sessions, hands-on lab sessions, and online homework sets.

Active Learning in the Course

Active learning begins in the lecture sessions, where students work through interactive lecture notes, filling in material and examples that Gunderson narrates and annotates on a smart tablet display. By creating their own study guide, they can add the information they find relevant, and can always refer to the recorded lecture afterwards to fill in any missing information. iClickers are also used to engage students during lecture, allowing students to check their understanding and discuss their answers (and reasoning) with nearby students. Read more »

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Faculty Name Veerendra Prasad
Course SAC 210
  • Flipped Course
  • Team Writing
  • Short Writing Assignments

Students working in groupsIntroduction

Students from a wide variety of backgrounds flock to Veerendra Prasad’s Introduction to Screenwriting course. Traditionally, students read and discuss feature-length screenplays while getting their feet wet in the form by writing short scripts. In this more active, team-based iteration, students work in teams on shorter writing assignments to build up their writing skills in place of lecture and discussion.

Active Learning in the Course

During class time, Prasad has students work in groups of three to four on scene writing exercises as a way of learning different cinematic storytelling techniques. The guiding philosophy of the class is that you learn by reading scripts, writing scripts, and getting feedback on scripts you've written. The exercises give the students  a chance to write as much as possible and receive as much feedback as possible along the course of the semester. Students then compile and turn in their in-class scenes as a writing "sketchbook" at the end of the semester. Read more »

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