Another Look at Active Learning, part 5: Active Learning in Large Classrooms

by Sheryl L. Love and Jeff Rients

In the previous three installments of this series, we’ve proposed a variety of active learning techniques that you can implement in your classroom. A common faculty response to some of the active learning techniques we’ve outlined is that they do not scale up, i.e. the claim is that these strategies may function admirably in a typical classroom, but they don’t work in a lecture hall. In this post we will be sharing some active learning techniques with proven track records in large classes as well as discussing the mental disposition needed for faculty to take the leap of faith into active learning.

Techniques

Each of the following techniques are designed to encourage student engagement with the lecture by providing an additional way of interacting with the material. Used repeatedly, they also help build the sense of community sometimes missing in lecture-based learning environments. This sense of community directly contributes to student motivation to succeed.

Neighbor Check-In

Ask students to talk with their neighbors to see if they have the same/correct understanding of a new concept. Working in a small group helps students to see that they are not alone in having questions and misunderstandings. After a few minutes of discussion, ask them to share any unresolved questions that the group still has.

Note Comparison

Invite students to pair up and take a few minutes to compare the notes they’ve taken with another student nearby. Pairs will be able to fill in gaps in each other’s notes. Invite students to share any point of disagreement, giving you the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings. Done regularly, this activity also encourages note-taking.

Interactive Polling

After a lecture segment use a polling tool like Poll Everywhere to ask students a multiple choice question. Then give the students an opportunity to talk in small groups, sharing their answers and justifying it to the other students. Without revealing the answer, repeat the poll. You will see that the students with the correct answer will have convinced many of their peers. Finish by explaining the answer for the benefit of those who still got it wrong.

Pass the Answer

Students write the answer to a prompt on an index card. They then swap answers with a nearby colleague. Turn and repeat swapping with someone else. Then swap one more time with someone else nearby. The instructor then calls on students to read the answer they are holding. This makes it easier for students to speak out in a large lecture hall, because they are offering someone else’s answer rather than their own. This also works well when soliciting student questions.

Two-Stage Quiz

Have students complete a quiz or solve a problem individually. Then, ask students to compare their answers with other students in small groups, come to a consensus on their answer(s)/solution(s) and commit to a final answer using Poll Everywhere, IF/AT scratch sheets [samples available at the CAT], index cards, etc. This activity works best if group responses can be reviewed during the class period.

For more ideas on active learning techniques, try our 3-page handout on Active Learning in Large Classrooms, which is split between simple, easy-to-implement strategies and those techniques that require more time and preparation.

Disposition

In addition to having the right technique at your disposal, it is also important to approach the active learning lecture hall with the right frame of mind. Lecturers often experience a sense of loss of control the first time they ask students to perform an activity. The movement of students and the general hubbub as they work on a task makes the normally orderly lecture hall feel like a chaotic place. We argue that, although the feeling is quite real, the control was always at least partially an illusion. 

In a standard lecture environment student silence can be interpreted as successful teaching. In fact, since a lecture is a one-way act of communication, there’s no easy way to determine whether the students are learning. At least, not in the moment. The following cartoon nicely illustrates the problem.

Cartoon depicts lecturer's thought balloon is different from students'.

An active learning lecturer welcomes the seeming chaos of an energetic classroom engaging in an activity as an opportunity to directly monitor student learning. By stepping away from the podium and patrolling the room, the instructor can view student learning while it is still forming and intervene when needed. Thus, the learning activity is not just a break from lecturing and an opportunity to re-establish waning student attention, it is a chance to informally assess students before we find out what they have learned via high stakes assessments such as exams and papers.

In the next installment of this series, online teaching expert Emtinan Alqurashi will share her thoughts on implementing active learning in both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. In the meantime, if you want to discuss how to build more active learning into your Temple courses, please email the Center for the Advancement of Teaching or schedule an appointment for a one-on-one consultation with one of our pedagogy specialists.

 

Sheryl L. Love is Associate Professor of Instruction in Temple University’s Department of Biology, where she serves as the Lab Coordinator for Biology 1011 (General Biology I) and Biology 1012 (General Biology II) for non-majors.

Jeff Rients is Associate Director of Teaching and Learning Innovation at Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Adjunct Associate Professor for Temple’s College of Education and Human Development.

Another Look at Active Learning, Part 4: Long-term Active Learning Techniques

Dana Dawson, Ph.D. and Cliff Rouder, Ed.D.

In part 2 of our series on active learning, we identified high-impact, easy-to-implement active learning techniques, and in part 3, we explored peer and collaborative learning. In this part, we’re going to examine high-impact active learning techniques that extend beyond a single class period, possibly spanning an entire semester or even the entire year. These techniques require a bigger planning component and involve a significant shift in roles for the instructor and for students as students assume more responsibility for their own learning. However, they also yield big rewards, including deriving solutions to real-world problems, increased engagement and greater ability to communicate/work effectively in groups. So without further ado, let’s take a look at a variety of long-term active learning techniques.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning encompasses activities that invite students to learn by doing. Students apply the skills and knowledge they’re learning in their courses within actual civic and work-based contexts that place them in a position to grapple with and reflect on real-world problems. This approach improves student engagement and retention because there are meaningful stakes involved and students can see how what they’re learning will be used in post-graduate situations.

Case-Based Learning

In case-based learning, students are presented with real-world scenarios and asked to apply their knowledge to come up with solutions or to advise on the best way to address the issue at hand. It is a form of guided inquiry where the problem is defined and students use knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to tackle the problem, or in some instances, choose from a set of possible solutions or analyze how others have resolved the scenario. 

Project-Based Learning

In project-based learning, students are presented with a complex real-life scenario that has multiple potential solutions. Working in groups, students develop a plan and design and create a ‘hands-on-solution’ in the form of a product or artifact to address the problem. 

Problem-Based Learning

Here, students are presented with a case or scenario where they define the problem, explore related issues, and identify a solution. While similar to case-based and project-based learning, problem-based learning is generally less structured and more open ended, and the problem is typically not as well defined as in case-based learning. Problem-based learning focuses on the process of discovery, with students working to define and solve the problem.

Service Learning and Community-Based Learning

Community-based learning (CBL)  (also called service learning) integrate direct community engagement into academic courses to mutually benefit students and community partners. These approaches emphasize the development of students’ civic awareness, knowledge, skills, values and goals to produce tangible social change and promote students’ critical thinking, self-efficacy, interpersonal skills, civic and social responsibility, academic development, and educational success. 

Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)

POGIL is a structured protocol in which students work collaboratively to investigate a topic. This approach begins with the assumption that we learn and complete tasks more effectively in groups because everyone has gaps in their skillset and knowledge base. By pooling assets, students are more able to tackle complex problems, thereby facilitating higher order tasks and ultimately promoting better learning experiences. Key elements of the POGIL approach are the use of persistent teams who together work through challenging, inquiry-based problems and the assigning of roles within those teams that enable students to self-manage the group’s work. Faculty members serve as guides while students learn through the process of inquiry.

Team-based Learning

Team-based learning (TBL) engages student knowledge through individual testing and collaborative work in persistent teams. There are four essential elements of team-based learning: 1. Groups: Groups must be intentionally formed and managed. 2. Accountability: Students must be accountable for the quality of their individual and group work. 3. Feedback: Students must receive frequent and timely feedback. 4. Assignment design: Group assignments must promote both learning and team development. When these four elements are implemented in a course, the stage is set for student groups to evolve into cohesive learning teams. 

The Flipped Classroom

In traditional classrooms, students consume content during class time, generally through listening to lectures. The flipped classroom moves more passive learning activities–such as listening, watching, or reading–outside of class time to make space within the classroom to practice skills and receive feedback. Students gain first exposure to content prior to class, ideally complete a knowledge check before coming to class so they and the professor can assess understanding ahead of the class period, and then participate in in-class or in-clinic activities that prompt higher-level thinking about the content through collaborative learning.

Gamification

We enjoy games because they’re fun, interactive and in many cases, capitalize on our competitive tendencies. There are many ways to bring the energy of play to the classroom by gamifying learning, ranging from easy-to-implement options such as using the “Competition” activity option in Poll Everywhere (for which Temple has an institutional license) to more complex activities such as Reacting to the Past (RTTP), a role-playing and immersive pedagogy. For example, our 2022 STEM Educators’ lecturer, Dr. André Thomas, described his successful creation of a video game designed to educate calculus students on the concept of limits. Where games are devised in such a way that they are enjoyable, involve collaboration, and require students to retrieve and apply course material, they are a surefire mechanism for encouraging engagement and information recall. And where they involve exploring and contextualizing a subject position that the student then must inhabit through an assigned role, as in RTTP, they allow for meaningful reflection on the complexities of contemporary and historical situations.

Executing long-term structured active learning

As mentioned above, long-term active learning techniques can require additional planning and intentional steps for ensuring group success. Faculty often ask us if there are ways to have students work more equitably and effectively in team projects. Asset-mapping can be used to promote equitable teamwork. 

Asset Mapping

We know that student group projects can be a valuable experience for students. However, even with an equal distribution of work, they may not always be equitable. This can be especially true in disciplines where underrepresented and marginalized groups might be stereotyped as not being capable enough to handle the project. Consistent with prior research in STEM fields, Stoddard and Pfeifer from Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s required first-year interdisciplinary project-based learning course, women and students of color more frequently experienced their ideas being ignored or shut down, being assigned less important tasks, dealing with an overpowering teammate, and having their work go unacknowledged or claimed by others.

They employed an equity-based approach using asset mapping originally developed by Kretzman and McNight in 1993. In essence, asset mapping gives students the opportunity to get to know their and their team’s strengths, interests, identities, and needed areas of growth related to the project. But it goes well beyond that. Asset mapping is just the initial step of a process that enables students to take a deeper dive into bias and stereotyping as they evaluate their own behaviors and the dynamics of their teams. As a way to operationalize asset mapping, Stoddard and Pfeifer developed this toolkit containing three modules that include the tools, activities, assignments, and rubrics needed at different times of the semester. 

If you’re interested in trying one of these longer-term active learning techniques, don’t hesitate to reach out to a CAT staff member for support. Stay tuned for the next installment of our active learning blog series which will focus on active learning in large classes!

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References

Amaral, G. (November 11, 2019). Using “Reacting to the Past” Role-Playing Games to Foster Vigorous Active Learning. EDvice Exchange Blog. Center for the Advancement of Teaching. 

Association for Experiential Education. “What is Experiential Education?” 

Bringle, R. G., & Clayton, P. H. (2012). Civic education through service learning: what, how, and why?. In Higher education and civic engagement: Comparative perspectives (pp. 101-124). New York: Palgrave Macmillan US.

Guo, P., Saab, N., Post, L. S., & Admiraal, W. (2020). A review of project-based learning in higher education: Student outcomes and measures. International journal of educational research, 102, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101586..

McLean, S. F. (2016). Case-Based Learning and its Application in Medical and Health-Care Fields: A Review of Worldwide Literature. Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development, 3. https://doi.org/10.4137/JMECD.S20377 

Pereira, O. P., & Costa, C. A. (2019). Service Learning: Benefits of Another Learning Pedagogy. Economic Research, 3(9), 17-33.

Pfeifer, G., & Stoddard, E. A. (2018). Diversity, equity, and ınclusion tools for teamwork: asset mapping and team processing handbook.

Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Team-Based Learning.

Rouder, C. (March 21, 2022). A Game-based Approach to Teaching Calculus: Implications of the Research for STEM Courses. EDvice Exchange, Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Team-Based Learning Collaborative. What is TBL: Overview.

The POGIL Project. General POGIL Book

The POGIL Project. What is POGIL?

Thomson, B. (September 24, 2019) Flipping the Classroom. EDvice Exchange Blog. Center for the Advancement of Teaching. 
Yew, E. H., & Goh, K. (2016). Problem-based learning: An overview of its process and impact on learning. Health professions education, 2(2), 75-79. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452301116300062

Another Look at Active Learning, Part 3: Peer & Collaborative Learning In The Classroom

Dana Dawson, Ph.D. and Jennifer Zaylea, MFA

In Another Look At Active Learning, part 2 of this series, we put forward several easy to implement active learning activities. Here we will focus on activities geared towards accomplishing depth of knowledge through peer and collaborative learning – encouraging a space for synthesizing rather than memorizing. Peer learning allows students to teach one another while expanding and solidifying their knowledge. Collaborative learning is similar to peer learning, but the students are grouped and work towards a common goal, all the while developing communication skills, learning from each other, and sharing their own unique perspectives. 

Benefits of Peer and Collaborative Learning

One of the biggest benefits of using intentional peer and collaborative learning in the classroom is that it promotes a sense of belonging, self-efficacy and community among our students. Several decades of empirical research have demonstrated the positive relationship between effectively implemented collaborative learning and not only our students’ emotional health, but their achievement, effort, persistence, and motivation (Scager, 2016). Students get to know one another and to forge connections. Their discussions help challenge false beliefs that get in the way of learning, such as the belief that they are the only one who doesn’t understand a particular concept or is struggling with material. A student’s peer may find ways of explaining a concept that is more comprehensible than the explanations or examples we use. And the process of peer learning promotes the development of so-called “soft skills” such as empathetic listening, communication, collaboration and problem solving.

Teaching Students How to Do Group Work Successfully

Learning with and from peers requires skills that our students are often still developing. It may be necessary to teach students some of the skills required for successful peer learning such as assigning tasks, asking follow-up questions or expressing disagreement. Here are some suggestions and activities to develop peer learning skills:

  • Talk explicitly with students about skills required for successful group work, particularly where they are tasked with completing a longer term project (more on that in the next blog). Discuss what active listening looks like in practice. Point out to students how you model these skills in your teaching. Stephen Brookfield’s “Conversational Moves” activity, described in Brookfield and Preskill’s Discussion As A Way Of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms, can be a great way to introduce students to strategies for promoting effective discussion.
  • Explore the role of emotion in peer learning. How do students feel when a teammate drops the ball? How does disagreement impact the experience of working in teams?
  • Address specific approaches to managing disagreement and communicating when another student’s point is not clear. Discuss ground rules for discussion early in the semester and consider asking students to participate in the creation of guidelines. The Hopes and Fears Protocol can be a helpful tool for this process. You might also provide examples of language to use in order to disagree respectfully (“What I hear you say is… The way I think about this topic is…”). 
  • Help students develop skills pertinent to collaboration by assigning roles such as leader, recorder, reporter, devil’s advocate and/or time-keeper. Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning encourages the use of the role of Analyst or Reflector, which is an individual who considers and periodically reports to the group on how successfully the group is communicating and collaborating.

Considerations When Implementing Peer/Collaborative Learning Activities

  • Articulate the “why” of the activity and how it relates to larger goals within the course and within students’ respective professions. For example, explain that a job in advertising is not an isolated work space; rather it is a highly collaborative work space where ideas and tasks are shared. Each person brings their own knowledge and skills, and participates in a reliable fashion. A manager will select group members as they deem appropriate, and it will often not be the grouping of friends that the students might be thinking. Remind students that developing collaboration skills in the classroom will hone their skills so that they can be more effective and successful professionals.
  • Clear instructions are essential when it comes to active learning and it is especially important as individual activities build into peer/collaborative activities. Early on you might need to help students by breaking out the tasks associated with the activity so that they can determine the most useful path to follow in order to achieve the goal. Providing the students with the opportunity to write out a few of their task-related skills on an index card before groups are formed might help to ensure that students do not get stuck trying to figure out who can contribute what. Ensure students know whether the activity is part of their grade for a course, if that grade is individual or a group grade, and how the grade is determined.
  • Make the deliverable something that is meaningful to the course and to the peer/collaborative groups. If the deliverable is considered “throw away” material, then the students are less likely to put much effort into the activity. Ensuring that the deliverable is something of value, like publishing their project on a public facing website, will encourage the students to actively participate as a whole rather than letting one or two students do all the work.
  • Regular group check-in’s are a necessity in peer/collaborative work. However, feedback can also create negative division within the group dynamic. To keep the group dynamic healthy, there might be a regular meeting at the start of each class where the group members identify items on a checklist that have been, or need to be, completed and by whom. Then, at the end of each class, the task list is revisited to ensure that all tasks are listed. This might mean that group members are adding to the list as they find they need additional work in one area or another to achieve the goal. The task list keeps each member accountable for their contribution and acts as a reminder of that accountability. In addition to a group task list, encouraging students to offer one another constructive feedback during their sessions is a great way to further build healthy communication skills.

Activities that encourage peer and collaborative learning

Investigating AI 

  • Compare output – Students work in small groups using their own prompts to see how differently they might approach researching a topic.
  • Work on prompts together – Students work in small groups to co-write prompts to get the best (most closely related) response to a question they know the answer to.
  • Play “spot the AI generated content” – Faculty provide pre-generated content to student groups and ask the groups to vet the content.
  • Prompt Engineering – Students compete to engineer prompts to generate a result you’ve tested and obtained beforehand.
  • Prompting Competition – Have students compete in creating the best prompt to elicit the most complete, useful, or interesting output to a course-related question or topic. Formulating a useful prompt requires clear articulation of the student’s own understanding, and comparing results allows students to practice their analytical skills. (This one comes from our Survival Guide to AI and Teaching pt.4: Make AI Your Friend.)

Role play: Involve students in activities where they assume different roles and play out scenarios that you or they have created. Students might shy away from this activity if the focus is only on one group at a time, so you might consider having several groups role playing in front of one other group rather than the class.

Interpreted lecture: Ask individual students or small groups to provide a short summary of your professor’s lecture in varying increments (every 15-20 minutes). This works best if you inform students ahead of time that you will be calling on them for this purpose so that they will be prepared for the next study session. You may need to call on other students to fill in any gaps, or fill in the gaps yourself. 

Case studies: Provide students with a case study or problem. Break students into groups of 3-5. Students work through the problem and present a proposed solution to the class. Note: students can be working on the same problem, or each team can receive a different problem. 

Debates: Form teams of students. Each team takes a particular stance on an issue. Ask debaters to debate an issue based on evidence, to clearly state points, to logically organize their argument, and to be persuasive. Those not on a team are the judges. 

Create a study guide: In pairs or groups, have students review their notes and create their own study guide. Review with the class as a whole.

Create possible board questions: In pairs or groups, have students draft questions that might appear on their board exams or other high stakes assessments.

Rotating Stations: Four to six white boards or poster-sized sticky notes are arranged around the room. Each has a different prompt at the top. Students circulate around the room, reading responses and adding their own. 

Teach each other / Update your classmate: In groups, have students take turns trying to teach the rest of their group a section of material. This will help them (and you!) gauge the depth of their understanding on a particular topic/concept. You may also ask students to write a memo to a real or fictional student who missed the last class session. In the memo, they describe the missed content and anticipate why the information might be important for understanding new content. 

Jigsaw: 

Step 1: Organize students into a group of 4-6 people. 

Step 2: Divide the day’s reading or lesson into 4-6 parts, and assign one student in each group to be responsible for a different segment. 

Step 3: Give students time to learn and process their assigned segment independently.

Step 4: Put students who completed the same segment together into an “expert group” to talk about and process the details of their segment. 

Step 5: Have students return to their original “Jigsaw” groups and take turns sharing the segments they’ve become experts on. 

Snowball: 

Step 1: Have students work in pairs for a few minutes to discuss a response to a prompt that you’ve given them. 

Step 2: Direct each pair to sit with another pair and now share amongst the four of you. 

Step 3: Repeat to form a group of 8. 

Step 4: Repeat until you have your whole class as one group discussing the issue. 

Formulate a report: Individually, students draft a report such as an incident report, a project report, meeting minutes, or progress reports, etc.. In small groups, peers review the report and suggest improvements. Individuals revise their reports and submit them. This activity is based on formulating Incident Reports, but the reports could be on a variety of subjects such as meetings, projects, medical reports, or other activities. 

Peer review: In pairs or small groups have students peer review student-created materials such as documentation, treatment plans, exercise programs, or discharge recommendations. Students can meet as a group to discuss the findings. Once feedback is provided students revise the materials before submitting.

Operate a tool: In groups of 2 to 4, students practice operating a tool or piece of equipment. As each student takes a turn the rest of the group provides them with feedback on their use of the tool.  

Pass the Answer: Students write the answer to a prompt on an index card. They then swap answers with a nearby colleague. Turn and repeat swapping with someone else. Then swap one more time with someone else nearby. The instructor then calls on students to read the answer they are holding. This makes it easier for students to speak out in a large lecture hall, because they are offering someone else’s answer rather than their own.

As we mentioned in blog post 2 of this series, you do not need to implement all of the activities listed above. We encourage you to use an activity or two during your class sessions and to select activities that are designed to meet the learning goals of your course. Once the activities are completed, reflect and determine if those activities helped to accomplish peer and collaborative learning. Peer and collaborative learning are learned skills just like any course content you might be delivering. Students have a similar learning curve when it comes to communication. Build in the time for this learning when you are creating peer/collaborative learning activities.

References:

Scager, Karin et al. “Collaborative Learning in Higher Education: Evoking Positive Interdependence.” CBE life sciences education vol. 15,4 (2016): ar69. doi:10.1187/cbe.16-07-0219
Brookfield, Stephen D. and Stephen Preskill. Discussion As A Way Of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. 2nd Edition. Jossey Bass, 2005

Another Look at Active Learning, Part 2: The World’s Easiest Learning Activities

Jennifer Zaylea and Jeff Rients

Hearing fellow faculty talk about their activities in class might beg the question, “How do you deliver all of your content if you are “playing” during class time?”  Yet, if you really think deeply about it, isn’t the application of the content the real goal?  Ensuring that the students are able to conceptualize and apply the information in meaningful ways is what we strive for as faculty. As mentioned in the introduction to this series, a meta-analysis of 225 studies, put forth by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), revealed that STEM courses taught using active learning methods showed an increase of approximately 6% higher exam scores than non-active lecture courses and that the failure rate was 1.5% higher in traditional lecture courses (p. 8410). 

A common concern we hear is that active learning techniques take up class time that should be spent on covering the vast list of required content for the course. Rather than being overly concerned with covering content in class, we can provide students the opportunity to cover at least some of the content outside of class. This allows for time to implement and practice the concepts during in-class activities where students can receive immediate feedback from their peers and faculty.   

Using active learning techniques in-class does not mean that you are less needed.  In fact, if you have designed your activities to help build the students’ self confidence in the material, then you’re actually very busy with facilitation of the activity and feedback or guidance.  The learning is happening in real-time rather than a few hours, days, weeks after an assignment has been submitted.  This approach affords you the opportunity to see where students might need additional support or where they have mastered certain content. 

Below are a few basic active learning activities that are easy to implement in the classroom as you begin your exploration of new methods that can support an engaging learning environment.

  • The Strategic Pause – Following 10 or 15 minutes of lecturing, announce something like “Before moving on, I am going to pause for a minute to allow you to catch up with your notes and decide if you have any questions.” This allows time for reflection, assimilation and retention of class material. Note that the first time you use this simple technique a full sixty seconds will feel like forever. 
  • Think-Pair-Share – One of the simplest but most effective ways to improve classroom discussions, a Think-Pair-Share begins with the instructor posing a question. Students individually contemplate this question for a minute or two (the Think step), then share their thoughts on the topic with the person sitting next to them (the Pair step), and conclude with a whole group discussion (the Share). This method gives students time to think their own thoughts and test them out in private, leaving them better prepared to participate in a class-wide discussion.
  • Polling – Polling can be used in a variety of ways, such as asking your students to quickly offer a new idea on a topic, and the responses can be seen in real-time by the class. A single question poll following the presentation of a difficult topic can allow you to see if the students are ready to move on or if they need additional instruction on the current topic. Polling can be done with a simple show of hands, but more anonymous options, such as using polleverywhere.com or colored index cards, ensures more accurate results.
  • Gamification/Challenges – Temporarily turning your classroom into a Jeopardy game or an online scavenger hunt provides an opportunity for students to engage in friendly competition while flexing their learning and building social connections. 
  • Concept Mapping – Students, using their own words and diagrams, make a visual that maps out the connections between course content. Concept mapping activates learning and retention of knowledge by requiring students to organize content in their own unique way. A concept map can be used as an additive organizational structure to build upon prior knowledge, brainstorming, conceptualizing connections. Asking students to compare concept maps or collaborate on creating one often reveals gaps in learning. Concept maps can be hand-drawn, produced with various graphic applications, or built with online whiteboard tools such as padlet.com or miro.com.

An example of an elaborate concept map.

  • One-Minute Paper – A quick written task asking the students to summarize what they learned during the class and/or what they do not understand. One-minute papers can be completed on index cards and are usually low or no stakes. Consider asking students not to put their name on their One-Minute Paper, as you will get more honest and revealing answers to prompts focusing on where the students are still struggling. 

A Helpful Hint

Don’t immediately try to implement every activity in every class.  You will become frustrated and so will your students. Use the activities as they relate to and enhance your content and its implementation.  Some activities will be less successful than others in your particular learning context, and this is part of learning what works for your students and your course objectives. But also keep in mind that facilitating learning activities is a skill and, like any skill, practice leads to improvement.

Temple Faculty who would like assistance planning a learning activity for their students, please remember that the CAT is here to help! Make an appointment to speak with one of our pedagogy specialists.

References 

Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okorafor, N., Jordt, H., and Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 111(23), 8410-8415. 

Jennifer Zaylea is Digital Media Specialist at Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT). Jeff Rients is Associate Director of Teaching and Learning Innovation at the CAT.

Cell Concept Map image by M.U.Paily made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Another Look at Active Learning: A Blog Series, Part I

Stephanie Laggini Fiore

If I had a quarter for every time someone says something to me like “I had 4 years of French in high school and I don’t remember a word of it”, I could pay for a trip to Hawaii right now. As a world language instructor, I hate hearing that. I want everyone who studies language to feel as if they can travel and be able to communicate in the target language in everyday situations. But, of course, the way language was taught when I was younger was not effective in making this ultimate goal a reality. Plug-and-chug homework exercises, rote drills, and mandates to memorize long lists of vocabulary and verb tenses were the dominant modes of teaching. As anyone who has memorized loads of content for an exam and then promptly forgotten it can attest to, mastery and retention of information and the ability to apply it in varied situations is not served well by these methods. 

What we know from decades of research on learning is that students learn best through active learning. (If you love lectures, don’t stop reading!! I’ll get to you in a minute.) Active learning engages students in the work of learning. It asks them to do more than just absorb information by listening to the experts tell them what to think. Instead, they participate in a wide variety of activities that ask them to cognitively engage with the course content by assessing their own knowledge of a topic, collaborating with others to solve problems, discussing key points, analyzing and evaluating information, and more. In active learning environments, students are moved beyond the remembering level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain to higher order levels of thinking that lead to deep learning. 

In 2014, Scott Freeman et al. published a meta-analysis of 225 studies on active learning (Freeman et al., 2014), in which they found that average grades on exams in active learning classes increased by half a letter grade, and that failure rates were 55% lower in active learning classes rather than in classes that utilized traditional lecturing (Again, hold on lecturers. I’m getting to you!) Freeman’s comment in an interview in Wired is telling: “The impact of these data should be like the Surgeon General’s report on ‘Smoking and Health’ in 1964–they should put to rest any debate about whether active learning is more effective than lecturing” (Wired, May 12, 2014). Since that time, research continues to add evidence to point us to the benefits of “hands-on” and “minds-on” learning (Yannier et al., 2021) and the increased benefits of active learning environments for underrepresented students (Eddy & Hogan, 2017), while a recent literature review adds that active learning environments also benefit students’ well-being (Ribeiro-Silva et al., 2022). 

But what about lectures, you say? (See, I told you I’d get to you!) Students aren’t experts, so they would learn better from an expert, right? There is a place for lectures done well. The false dichotomy that embracing active learning means throwing lectures out entirely is unhelpful.  As Stephen Brookfield reminds us, lectures are useful for explaining complex concepts with clarifying examples, introducing alternative perspectives, and modeling intellectual attitudes and behaviors. But a traditional lecture—that is, all-lecture-all-the- time—showcases what you know as the expert, but does not work well to bring novice learners along for the intellectual ride. When the dominant voice you hear in the room is your own, it’s time to stop and take stock of the teaching methods you are using. The best lecturers pause to ask questions, use demonstrations and media to support the point they are making, give students time for reflection—in short, they use active learning techniques embedded in their lectures to help students learn.

Today, in world language classes, students begin using the language from day one. They still need to memorize information, but it is in service to the actual use of the language. They make plenty of mistakes, but I remind them that struggle is part of learning and that they will come to a point where they are feeling less struggle and more triumph in their learning journey. It’s also scary. Instead of reading from pre-written scripts, they are creating language on the spot without a safety net. That mirrors authentic use of the language and helps them navigate real situations when they are faced with them. A supportive atmosphere that encourages experimentation and active effort in using the language, de-emphasizes perfection, and supports resilience in learning is what it’s all about. The best part is that we all enjoy learning so much more. 

You and your students can too! There is a continuum of active learning strategies available to instructors, starting from simple and informal think-pair-share activities and brief polling questions that take a few minutes, all the way to semester-long and highly structured team-based learning activities that require intentional preparation. You can dip your toe in, starting out small with just a few strategies, or dive into active learning wholeheartedly. In this blog series, we will guide you through your choices, explore how to employ active learning in online and large class environments, and also consider how to set up active learning for success. We hope you’ll join us and try some active learning strategies on for size.

Stephanie Fiore, PhD, is Associate Vice Provost and Senior Director of Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Grouping by Strengths

by Meg Steinweg and Melanie Trexler

Faculty frequently design team projects to enable students to accomplish tasks they cannot complete alone and to build teamwork skills. The latter, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), is one of the top eight career-readiness skills that students need to learn in college (NACE 2022). Yet, instructors face a common challenge: How do you put students in groups that work well together?

The following activity helps instructors create groups that incorporate students self-determined strengths, student choice, and instructor matching-making. Additionally, the assignment invites students to reflect on their strengths and express agency in choosing their group members.

Part I: Strengths Assessment

  1. Access https://high5test.com/ – Select “Find Your Top Strengths”
  2. Take the 100 question High5 Test. (8–15 minutes) Answer as best you can.
  3. Read and reflect on your results.

Part 2: Write the Paper

Reflect critically on the five strengths as they relate to your life and to your role in a group. For each of the five strengths:

  1. State the strength
  2. Describe it. Copy and paste the paragraph about your strength from the High5 website.
  3. Write a paragraph noting where you see this strength appear in your own life and in how you work in groups. Use examples of group work in other classes, on teams (ex: sports, volunteering, etc.), and/or in internships or jobs.
  4. Conclusion: Do you think these describe your core strengths as an individual? Why?

Part 3: Presentation

Present your strengths to the class in a 2–3-minute presentation.* Highlight at least 2 strengths you possess. How do you use these strengths in a group? Why are you a valuable team member? What are strengths you are looking for in a group member? Why?

*This could be recorded, and presentations viewed by students outside of class.

Part 4: Listening and group member selection write-up

As you listen to your peer’s presentations consider how peers’ skills and strengths compliment your own. You do have a voice in choosing potential group members, though the instructor determines which groups work together. You will be in a team with at least one person you select.

  1. In order, list four group members you would like to work with. 
  2. In one paragraph per person (3–4 sentences), explain:
    • How do your strengths complement each other in a group project?
      • What is one possible way your strengths could clash and how could you overcome that challenge?

Meg Steinweg is Associate Professor of Biology at Roanoke College. Melanie Trexler is Associate Professor of Religion at Roanoke.

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This article was released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license as part of the Teaching Messages Collection 2023-24.

Snack Baskets for Better Learning

Wren Mills, PhD

For many years, I have brought a snack basket with me to my classes.  Some colleagues have given me side-eye for this, but food insecurity on college campuses is a real problem, and it appears (in my experience) to have been made worse by the pandemic.  We have known for a long time that school children have problems concentrating when they do not have proper nutrition, hence free breakfast and lunch programs nationwide.  College students are no different. While many institutions require on-campus students to purchase meal plans if they live in the residence halls, struggling students usually purchase the bare minimum, which might be as little as one meal per day. Some students stack schedule their classes with no breaks (especially common with first year students) and sometimes forget to grab their own snack to tie them over before they head to class for the day.  Other students work all day and come to night classes without time to grab something to eat before their long night classes. With food insecurity and forgetfulness in mind, my snack basket began.

On the first day of class, I bring and talk about the snack basket, about food insecurity, and that I never want anyone to sit in my class hungry and thinking about what or when they will next eat or trying to ignore their rumbling tummies.  I want them to take a snack if they need it, but if they don’t, please leave it for those who do. It is rare that anyone takes what I’d call “more than a fair share,” but sometimes they do. If I notice a student doing that, I ask them privately after class if they know about the food pantry on campus (which is conveniently across from my building). [At Temple, the appropriate resource to refer students is The Barnett & Irvine Cherry Pantry, located in room 224A of the Howard Gittis Student Center. -Ed.]

My snacks are varied. I ask on my information sheet if there are any food allergies, too, so that if we have someone with a peanut allergy, for example, I can share with the class as a whole to avoid the things that might set off their neighbor.  (Students usually happily “out” themselves and their allergies and let people know if it’s a “not in the room with me, please” or a “just make sure I’m not next to you” allergy.)  I always have a breakfast bar or granola of some kind.  I also include chips, cookies, and trail mix.  There are suckers.  There is chocolate.  There are gummies and hard candies.  There are applesauce sleeves.  I get cheese and crackers, too.  It is rare that a hungry soul can’t find something to help them out.

How do I afford this?  Like probably all of you, I’m certainly not wealthy or reimbursed.  I watch the clearance areas of my local groceries—they often put boxes there that are damaged, but the food inside is perfectly fine and 75% off or more.  I use coupons.  I watch for sales.  I live for the weeks after Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas!  If I bring fresh fruit, I do so on Mondays so that hopefully it’s gone by Friday. And I remind the students that this is out of my own pocket, and that I do my best to keep the snack basket full, but sometimes it might be a bit empty.  I’ve had students bring things to contribute that they bought (or their parents did) and decided they don’t like.  I’ve had colleagues contribute, too.  (The student workers and graduate assistants always know they can come and get a snack, too, if they need one).

I know not everyone will be interested in doing this. Some will say this isn’t part of their job.  And it’s not—it does go beyond normal teaching, service, and scholarly duties.  Alternatively, it would only take a moment of your time to look up what help is available on your campus and in your community for food-insecure students.  Most campuses now have food pantries. In my city, the churches near campus offer meals and food pantries to our student population just as they do everyday folks just trying to make ends meet.  Having a resource sheet that you can hand students will be appreciated and remembered by them.

Articles of Interest

College student hunger statistics and research. (n.d.). Feeding America.org. https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/college-hunger-research

McCoy et al. (2022). Food insecurity on college campuses: The invisible epidemic. Health Affairs. https://www.healthaffairs.org/content/forefront/food-insecurity-college-campuses-invisible-epidemic

Wren Mills is Assistant Professor in the School of Leadership and Professional Studies at Western Kentucky University.

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This article was released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license as part of the Teaching Messages Collection 2023-24.

A Guide to Creating an Analytic Rubric

Dana Dawson, Ph.D.

Rubrics are tools used by faculty to guide our assessment of student performance and to make our expectations transparent for students. Using a rubric can help make grading more efficient for faculty and fair for students, but when constructed well and shared along with assignment or activity descriptions, they also benefit student learning. Rubrics explicitly represent our performance expectations and allow students to direct their effort toward the intended goal of an activity or assignment. By asserting ahead of time our highest expectations, we encourage students to reach toward those high standards. The use of rubrics promotes more specific feedback and guidance on future performance which allows students to target specific areas for improvement. When we encourage students to review the rubric ahead of time and reflect on feedback after the fact, we can help our students develop the habit of reflecting on their learning.

Rubrics take a variety of forms from checklists of attributes that would demonstrate competence to analytic rubrics featuring descriptions of levels of competence in relation to different criteria. In this post, I will guide you through the steps of creating an analytic rubric (a rubric that features discrete dimensions and criteria descriptions of performance standards for each of those dimensions) featured in our rubric creation worksheet.

Parts of an Analytic Rubric

Analytic rubrics consist of dimensions, scale labels and descriptions of performance standards. A rubric may feature any number of dimensions, but including too many dimensions may make the rubric difficult for a student to interpret. Dimensions of a rubric may be weighted differently to indicate to students those that are most crucial to success on the assignment. Scales generally range from 3-5 criteria levels.

Scale label 1Scale label 2Scale label 3
Dimension 1(Number of points)Description of performance standardsDescription of performance standardsDescription of performance standards
Dimension 2(Number of points)Description of performance standardsDescription of performance standardsDescription of performance standards
Rubric Scale Example

Steps to Create a Rubric

1) Reflect

Begin with a freeform reflection on your goals for the assignment or activity. What are the main things you want this activity/assignment to accomplish; in other words, what are your goals? What content knowledge and skills is/are needed to productively complete this assignment/activity? What behaviors demonstrate achievement of the assignment’s goals? What are the highest expectations you have for students on this assignment? What evidence can students provide that would show they have accomplished what you hoped they would accomplish when you created the assignment/activity? What would the worst demonstration of this assignment look like? 

2) List

Use your reflection to formulate a list of the most important attributes of success on the activity/assignment. What would an excellent submission or performance look like? What specific characteristics would it have? What are the most important attributes of success for this assignment/activity? Include a description of the highest level of performance you expect for the item.

3) Group

Group items with similar performance criteria and give your groups titles. These groups will become your rubric dimensions. For example, your list may look something like this:

  • Presentation is cogent
  • Presentation is organized
  • Thesis demonstrates thoughtful analysis of the text
  • Thesis and evidence demonstrates familiarity with the text
  • There is evidence for the thesis
  • Presentation anticipates counter-points
  • Specific position (perspective, thesis/hypothesis) is imaginative, taking into account the complexities of an issue*
  • Limits of position (perspective, thesis/ hypothesis) are acknowledged
  • Organizes and synthesizes evidence to reveal insightful patterns, differences, or similarities related to focus
  • Central message is compelling (precisely stated, appropriately repeated, memorable, and strongly supported)

The above list may be grouped as follows:

Thesis

  • Thesis demonstrates thoughtful analysis of the text
  • There is evidence for the thesis
  • Central message is compelling (precisely stated, appropriately repeated, memorable, and strongly supported)

Textual analysis

  • Thesis and evidence demonstrates familiarity with the text
  • Addresses complexity of text

Supporting points

  • Presentation anticipates counter-points
  • Limits of position (perspective, thesis/ hypothesis) are acknowledged

Creativity

  • Specific position (perspective, thesis/hypothesis) is imaginative, taking into account the complexities of an issue
  • Organizes and synthesizes evidence to reveal insightful patterns, differences, or similarities related to focus

4) Apply

You may now use your groups to fill in the left hand side of the rubric and your notes from the reflecting and listing phases of this exercise to establish your criteria. This worksheet includes a blank table that you may use to begin drafting your rubric. Remember to consider whether you want to assign point values to each of the dimensions in your rubric.

A Note on Scale Labels

Too often, the language we use for our scale labels can read as harsh and judgmental for students reading the scale. For example, scale labels such as “Weak,” “Poor” or “Unacceptable” do not imply for our students a belief that they can improve. Here are some suggestions for scale label language that is less likely to be discouraging.

Advanced, intermediate high, intermediate, novice

Exceeds expectations, meets expectations, developing towards expectations

Exceeds expectations, meets expectations, progressing, not there yet

Distinguished, proficient, intermediate, novice

Mastery, partial mastery, progressing, emerging

Sophisticated, highly competent, fairly competent, not yet competent

Concluding Thoughts

Taking the time to reflect on your goals for an activity or assignment and to concretely articulate your expectations will not only improve the quality of the rubric you create, but will help guide your instruction. Clearly identifying what you expect your students to know or be able to do will allow you to work backwards from those expectations to the exercises and materials needed in order for students to build the necessary skills and content knowledge.

For help designing and implementing rubrics, feel free to book an appointment with a CAT educational developer or educational technology specialist. Go to catbooking.temple.edu or email cat@temple.edu.

*Some of the performance criteria description language used here is borrowed from the AACU Value Rubrics.

Dana Dawson serves as Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at Temple University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching

Using Reading Prompts to Promote Students’ Academic Reading

Zeenar Salim

Do you have concern around students attending classes without pre-reading? Ever wondered how you can make them read? Students in higher education are expected to comprehend the text, connect their prior experiences with the text, evaluate the text, and consider alternative view-points to the text. Reading prompts are considered to be a way to motivate students to read. It improves students’ comprehension and critical thinking skills by engaging them actively with the reading material. 

Provision of reading cues/prompts helps the learners to actively read as well as analyze their own thoughts during and after reading to expand, clarify or modify their existing thinking about the concepts or idea at hand. The reading prompts can be categorized into six categories a) identification of problem or issue b) making connections c) interpretation of evidence d) challenging assumptions e) making applications, and f) taking a different point of view. Sample questions for each category are as follows:

  1. What is the key issue/concept explained in the article? What are the complexities of the issue? (Identification of problem or issue)
  2. How is what you are reading different from your prior knowledge around the issue/topic? (Making connections)
  3. What inferences can you draw from the evidence presented in the reading? (Interpretation of evidence)
  4. If you got a chance to meet the author, what are the key questions that you would ask the author? (Challenging assumptions)
  5. What are the lessons for your practice that you have drawn from this reading? (Application)
  6. If you wrote a letter to your friend who has no expertise in this subject area, how would you explain to him the theoretical concept presented in the article? (Taking a different point of view)

Generally, students are asked to complete the reading prompts before the next class by writing a paragraph-long response to each question. Teachers may ask some or all questions depending upon the learning objectives of the session and may adapt the question(s) to gauge specific information around the text. For more sample questions and detailed literature around reading prompts, please read Tomasek (2009). 

Reference

Tomasek, T. (January 01, 2009). Critical Reading: Using Reading Prompts to Promote Active Engagement with Text. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ896252.pdf

Zeenar Salim is a Fulbright PhD Candidate at Syracuse University, where she works at RIDLR (Research in Design Learning Resources).

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Full Disclosure of the Terms of Success: Nine Things to Tell Your Students

Dana Dawson, Ph.D.

In a 1997 essay entitled “For Openers… an Inclusive Course Syllabus,” Terence Collins argues for the importance of what he calls “full disclosure of the terms of success” – making explicit the “befuddling mores, assumptions, work habits, background knowledge, key terms, or other markers of the academic subculture too often left implicit, inaccessible to outsiders.” By the time most college instructors or TA’s teach a course, lab, studio or recitation for the first time, we have been embedded in the context of higher education for long enough to have forgotten what we found mystifying and incomprehensible in those early days on campus. It’s important to periodically remind ourselves that what is obvious to us needs to be made explicit to our students.

So, in service of encouraging full disclosure of the terms of success and in keeping with a genre of pseudo-journalism I often find irresistible, I present 9 things all professors should tell their students (including their graduate and professional students).

1. It’s normal to feel like an imposter. 

What we have come to call “imposter syndrome” is the feeling that we do not have the requisite skills or knowledge to be where we are and that we have somehow tricked others into believing we are something we’re not (Clance and Imes, 1978). Unfortunately, such negative self-beliefs, however unfounded, can have very real effects on learning and persistence (Holden et al., 2021). Reassure your students that it was not an accident that they found their way into your classroom or program. Share experiences you or your colleagues have had with feelings that you don’t belong and how you overcame them. 

2. You can ask for things. 

You may have noticed that while some students don’t hesitate to ask for extensions, help, accommodations or clarifications, others suffer in silence even where there are supports they could be taking advantage of. Your students may worry that asking for help is a sign that they don’t belong (see #1 above) or feel unsure of what they can ask you about and when it’s appropriate to ask. Make it clear that they can ask, even if the answer may not always be yes. 

3. Treat your learning as a never-ending research project.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to succeeding in one’s studies, so it’s important that our students regularly ask themselves whether what they’re doing is working. Encourage your students to use metacognitive strategies to interrogate their study practices and find opportunities for improvement (McGuire and McGuire, 2015).

4. All students can benefit from academic support.

The best way to ensure students who need academic support will seek it out is to reinforce the idea that all students benefit from academic support (Thomas and Tagler, 2019). Remind your students that even star athletes receive coaching. Academic support will benefit any student and will most benefit those who seek support early and often. Remember that students coming to your campus from high school may be completely unfamiliar with student support centers, mental health counseling centers, student health clinics and other student supports. Transfer and graduate students who are new to your campus might be familiar with such supports but not where to find them. Be sure to include this information in your syllabus and course site, and to bring it up in class.

5. We are all still learning.

Another way of saying this is that there are no bad questions. Be transparent about your on-going learning, for example, research findings that surprised you and changed how you thought about your field or an article, book or conference presentation that taught you something new. 

6. What your discipline does and how your course fits into that framework.

When I started my undergraduate degree, I had never heard of Sociology, the discipline I ultimately chose as a major. As soon as I started taking Sociology courses, I knew I was in the right place but struggled to explain to my family what I was going to do with the degree because I wasn’t entirely sure how the content taught in my courses was applied outside of an academic context (or in an academic context, for that matter). Pull back the curtain on your discipline. What are the big questions? Why do they matter? Where does what your course covers fit into the fabric of your discipline? How do people use the skills and knowledge specific to your field in non-academic contexts?

7. What you assume your students already know and can do at the start of your course and what to do if they’re missing any pieces.

Are there concepts, authors, formulas, procedures, methods, etc. that your students should be familiar with? Are there courses you’re assuming they’ve taken? Being explicit about anticipated prior knowledge in a pre-semester questionnaire or early in the semester will give your students an opportunity to fill in gaps sooner rather than later.

8. Preferred communication guidelines.

Do you expect to be called Dr. ___? Would you rather not be called Dr. ___? Do you refuse to read emails that don’t begin with “Dear ___,” and end with a period? Should students nudge you if they haven’t received a response to an email within a couple of days? A couple of weeks? In addition to ensuring you are communicated with in a manner with which you are comfortable, this is an important part of our students’ professional development.

9. You’re glad they’re in your class.

I’m glad you read this far! There. Now didn’t it feel good to read that?

References

Clance, Pauline Rose, and Suzanne Ament Imes. “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, vol. 15, no. 3, 1978, pp. 241-247.

Collins, Terence. “For Openers, An Inclusive Course Syllabus.” New Paradigms for College Teaching, edited by W. E. Campbell & K. A. Smith, Interaction Book Company, 1997, pp. 79-102.

Holden, Chelsey L., et al. “Imposter Syndrome Among First- and Continuing-Generation College Students: The Roles of Perfectionism and Stress.” Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 2021. DOI 15210251211019379.

McGuire, Stephanie, Saundra Yancy McGuire, and Thomas Angelo. Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. Routledge, 2015.

Thomas, Christopher L., and Michael J. Tagler. “Predicting Academic Help-Seeking Intentions Using the Reasoned Action Model.” Frontiers in Education. Vol. 4. Frontiers Media SA, 2019.

Dana Dawson serves as Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at Temple University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching