Active learning

When delving into teaching best-practice, “active learning” is often brought up – and this is for good reason. University-level courses that use active learning show a 12% decrease in the fail-rate. But what does active learning actually look and feel like for students in the classroom?

Two weeks ago I attended the Active and Collaborate Learning workshop run by IML’s Adam Morgan as part of the Teaching for Learning.futures program. Adam is the “go-to” for student engagement and has been awarded two Learning and Teaching citations – the first in 2014, and then again this week. In the workshop, Adam showed us some great practical ways to create an active learning environment in the classroom.

The write, pair, share

One of the ways to engage students in active learning is through collaboration – so step one is to get people talking to one another. The first activity was the “write, pair, share”, in which we had to:

  1. Write out five points about our personal story
  2. Pair with someone else in the group
  3. Share our personal stories with each other

Joining a group of people can be a nerve-wracking experience and so this technique enabled us – as students – to build trust with at least one person at the table. Writing your thoughts down before-hand meant we were prepared with what we wanted to say. By creating that trust and connection between ourselves we were ready to collaborate during the group activities.

The scratchie

Now that everyone felt comfortable in the group Adam got us working together. There was a list of multiple choice questions to answer – but the pressure was on! We had to scratch the answers into purpose-made Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique scratch cards! Points were deducted for each scratch attempt that was not correct. There is something about physically scratching the answers and waiting in anticipation to see whether we got the points that made the stakes higher – like we were going to win $100,00 on an actual scratchie. This brought the team together and motivated us to discuss and explain questions and answers with each other. The scratchie activity was unanimously everyone’s favourite which was backed up by the student feedback Adam shared with us.

The open discussion

An interesting technique Adam used to engage the room was to stand on the opposite side of the room than the student talking. The aim was to encourage people to talk to the room, not just to the front of the room where the teacher usually stands. This helped open up the room and allowed the conversation in the classroom to flow, especially for the final discussion where it was up to us to talk. The choice was given – talk for 15 minutes or sit in silence. This was invaluable as people with different levels of experience in teaching started asking and answering questions. I could see how this would be a great way to end a tutor where the students could ask questions that were unanswered and their peers could reflect on their own learning to answer the question. A great example of active and collaborative learning.

It was great to experience active learning from the perspective of the student. It definitely helped to connect the dots between learning theory and practice and would highly recommend the workshop.

Image via Entomology Today.

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