3. TLT Ideas for Supporting Active Learning

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Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas"

Chickering and Gamson's third principle is ' encouraging active learning.' "Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives." Many of the other principles, such as student-student collaboration, can also advance active learning. In what ways has technology been used in your courses or at your institution that, directly or directly, encourages active learning?  We're looking for ideas that at least some people would appreciate and haven't yet thought of - you don't need to be the first to do it. Describe what you do in a sentence or three and let us know if we can include your name and email address. Submit your description to Steve Ehrmann.

Students using computers to do what professionals do with computers

  • Our school is an art and design college, so the studio courses make use of digital imaging possibilities, drawing and art programs, type and design capabilities on a daily basis.

  • I use 2 techniques, both of which require technology as an enabler. First, I make an extra effort to come up with projects that make it fun for them to learn. An example is an eDating project my eCommerce students are currently working on. The topic is interesting enough for them to want to give them a try. Most of them are intrigued by how online dating works, and knowing that they are doing this as a school assignment provides them with a safe environment to “try it out”. Second, I divide the project in milestones, and assign a new milestone each week. It works pretty much like a novel: they don’t know how it will end, and as the term progresses, they are so interested in completing the milestone at hand, that they don’t’ realize how much they are learning about a specific topic (i.e., in the eDating project, it will be a business model called “Online Market Makers” by Eisenmann).  Maria R. Garcia - garciam@fpc.edu 

  • Where Information Technology itself is the subject, then practical projects that require the student to analyse and state the problem, then design and build a solution can be very instructive. However, due to time and cost constraints these projects must be limited in scope and usually all students are working on the same problem, so there can sometime be very little variety in the range of solutions (and the learning experiences) available. One way to overcome this for small to moderately large classes (say <60 students) is to publish a set of practical projects, and require the students to form groups of between 3-5 students. Each group must then choose a project which has to be implemented in the Lab. No two groups can work on the same project (within the same tutorial session). The students in each group are then given their own private web noticeboard system to use as a communication and repository. They must analyse the project, assign tasks to group members and all this must be written in the notice-board system (it becomes an on-line log book...) The group must then demonstrate their finished project to the tutor and if time permits, a showcase can be arranged at the end of semester so that the group can demonstrate their project to their peers. [Monash University, Australia] Editor's Note: See also Principle II for more ideas about student collaboration.

  • A colleague has been using WebCT for example as a means of developing authentic tasks with group of postgraduates in finance. He has them working online in teams analysing and designing investment strategies and building an investment portfolio around real world companies and work place based problems.

  • I have also developed technologies for the course. For example: 1) a Flow Charting program) specifically designed to help students master elementary programming concepts before they've mastered the syntax of a computer language. 2) A web-sever simulator, that allows students to create programs that behave as if they were running on the web 3) A numeric conversion program, that actually runs through number problems (such as base conversions) symbolically, allowing students to check their own work. Editor's Note: Giving students tools (often commercially-developed) can aid active learning.

  • Prior to having these computer class rooms, I used to teach course such as programming language and computer simulation using overheads/board. That used to be very boring and ineffective for students. Now they model as I go along. Using smart board I show them what I am doing and they follow very well.

Active Learning in the Classroom: Extended Research

  • Students consistently use their laptops to research questions on the web while in class. Most of our regularly used classrooms are fully networked for access by all the students.

A choice of supplementary materials online

  • [Using video clips as part of an active learning strategy]: The software is available via the internet 7 x 24 and is used to archive digital video for use in classes. It provides a video reference tool, much as a card catalogue does for books. 

Online Research for Texts and Artifacts Related to the Topic under Study

  • Assign periodic "self-discovered" readings on the topics being discussed in class. This broadens discussion greatly, encourages initiative in locating ideal material and creates an ever-growing bibliography for that course and for students in later sections of the course (if I choose to transfer the citations to the next course).]

  • Definitely online research -- visiting websites for viewing artworks, artifacts of other cultures. Further, the Blackboard site for our course last semester in professional writing included a series of links to other sites that could help students with their work, became a sort of jumping off point.

  • Given a research design, students are challenged to find at least three research studies that pertain to the discipline and that utilize that same research design. They then critique the studies as to their usefulness to the discipline, and suggest changes that would improve the design or the rigor of the study. They use internet search engines to find the research studies.

Laboratory Experiments

  • Lab equipment allows faster data collection and more time to consider what is really happening. Our labs are moving away from the "follow directions and fill in the blanks" model, giving students more time to focus on why something is happening. Each lab requires a word-processed report.

  • Technology encourages active learning because students have actual hands-on lab work in class. I always try to engage my students in the lesson presentation. For example, I have the students come to the front of the classroom and perform the technology assignment while I explain to the class what is happening.  

  • One thing that I am just starting to do is use technology to provide virtual access or exposure to laboratory and other exercises that are either not possible to do in larger classes, or where the research is not being done at the University of South Florida. Editor's Note: In science and engineering, labs have sometimes become the museum of the curriculum -- where students go to learn how things were once done. Technology use for such experiential and exploratory learning sometimes can be used to allow students to experience the modern version of their field.  As this comment indicates, it can also sometimes give students experience that would not be available on campus.

  • Editor's Note: A relatively new innovation in this area is the ability for students to create and run laboratory experiments, and gather data, while not in the same place as the laboratory equipment.  Among other things, this means that some lab equipment can be used 24x7, so that it can be shared by a much larger group of students. MIT has created a system for developing and sharing such laboratories, even among different institutions around the world. iLabs is described on MIT's web site. You might also be interested in The TLT Group's study of this and several other MIT-developed academic software projects.

Extended Research Outside of the Classroom

  • Often because of time constraints, I am unable to cover a topic in as much detail as I (and some students) would like, and thus, I give assignments where students are asked to gain more knowledge on a topic area. Many times students will actively gain this information from various Internet sites. We then will discuss in class the information they've gathered and the validity of such information. This is a great tool that encourages active learning, and discussion of not only the topic, but also allows students to evaluate materials they find on the Internet.

  • Some of our classes have used Internet-based research projects, such as a learning community we did that had small groups of students examine and report on separate web sites of American hate groups. The in-seat class time for this project was only about 50% of what would normally have been required; even the students' presentations occurred out of class, in a campus-wide auditorium setting.

  • Another way active learning is encouraged through one of my classes is through a tool provided by the textbook publisher. One of our general psychology texts is bound with a CD-ROM that gives students an opportunity to explore the material in more depth, practice testing themselves, and review material already discussed.

  • Occasionally, I will have students visit a web site that contains information that they are covering, I have found giving the a study guide that asks them to visit certain pages of the site, and find specific information is helpful. The process of writing it down after reading it, then reporting it back seems to help with retention. Editor’s Note: This may help a bit with the student remembering the text that he or she has copied, but it takes even more active forms of learning to help the student learn how to explain or apply what has been found. Compare this idea with the one immediately below.

  • My composition students are exposed to many of the principles of effective research and information literacy by comparing electronic information sources. By applying the criteria we introduce and discuss in class to a wide variety of artifacts that they are assigned or which they locate on their own, they actively engage in the lessons we would have previously "shown" them. The level of active engagement that happens in most courses on campus makes it interesting when students are expected to partake of more lecture-oriented material, as must happen in all courses at some time; they labor to remain attentive. So this is a bit of a double-edged sword.

  • I also use the calendar to inform them about extracurricular events they could attend related to the course and use e-mail alerts this way, too.

  • Students in my history classes prepare a number of technology projects. These are collaborative in nature, so they teach one another technological skills while simultaneously sharing content knowledge regarding their particular topic. Moreover, students must present their finished web quests or virtual field trips to the entire class. In short, they teach the rest of us about their subject. Editor’s Note: One of the brightest professors I know returned to teaching a grad course after several years absence. He organized the course around student research into literature on the topic, mostly using the web. To his surprise, about 60% of what the students uncovered was research of which he had been unaware.

  • The Library has a Virtual Librarian web page.

Analysis of Real World Case Studies

  • Case studies may be assigned to individuals or groups. When students work in small groups on case studies they seem to enjoy discussing the case and working out the answers to the case.

  • In my websites, students are provided with a range of reflective, and open-ended tasks that support the application of theory to practice. These activities utilise video and photographic images, case studies and other online resources. Students are able to save work, view summaries of work in progress, and send and receive comments from academic staff and other students. External evaluation of the site shows a high level of student engagement and authentic learning. [Monash University, Australia]

  • Case Study Application by technology has been much more helpful. I teach fairly abstract courses-Community Health Nursing, Public Health Science. I find this a strong active learning motivator for the student who is learning new material. The student is forced to read the text and materials! (I've learned some don't read otherwise, they study your class notes). They must then take it the next step and apply it based on their readings. Well-developed case studies and assignments on-line have prompted active, creative and independent learning which is critical when learning new concepts and principles in a course.

Support for Work on Projects

  • Computer databases for student files and info completed by students, electronic files to turn in homework instead of paper.

Links with Professionals in the Field

  • Especially with my student teaching supervision the university has UCOMPASS which enables them to chat with each other and with supervisors on various teaching subjects and even share their fears. Often one reads in these conversations one student encouraging another than they will be successful etc.

Simulations, Games, and Tours

  • I have developed an interactive activity on the web that was very popular with students and I believe that they learned a lot from this activity. I use this in a business class to demonstrate a popular business concept and the activity is very much like a video game to them, but they need to understand the business concept and be able to apply it in order to "win." Additionally, for business education, there are many web based plant tours available -- real plant tours are sometimes difficult to organize and these allow the students to "tour" a plant from wherever they are.

Active Learning to Put Pieces Together

  • In one literature course, we created an online notebook which was linked to an e-text they were reading so they could maintain a running commentary on the reading. This was then available for all students in the class to see as they read the text rather than having to wait till the next day's class to see what their peers were thinking.  The students were required to respond daily online. Although they didn't necessarily enjoy this, they did admit that it made them think more about the text as they read it rather than being able to put off their critical thinking till they had to write a paper on it at the end of the course.

  • I use threaded discussions to encourage critical thinking. Students are required to read, learn, and then share their own opinions online. Certainly, the most important part is to see how they apply what they have learned to their daily lives. Each week there is a new topic, and students participate throughout the week in the threaded discussion. Then, during class time, one student is randomly called to summarize the topic. This ensures that students not only participate, but also get actively involved in the discussion. Maria R. Garcia - garciam@fpc.edu

  • In an introductory computer applications course, adult students new to the Internet, word processing, and e-mail are required to independently search the World Wide Web for any site of personal interest. They compose a two-paragraph summary describing the site, complete with URL, its features, how the student found the site, and what strengths the student believes the site offers. This summary is then emailed to the class discussion list.  Other students are asked to visit those sites that are of interest to them and respond to the list with their own comments. I have found this to be a wonderful way to integrate the topics we are learning in a positive way since the students discover how and why to use the information presented in class for concrete, personal reasons.

  • In experimental psychology, more on-line laboratory exercises are being written every day. I am using two substantial on-line packages for two courses I'm teaching. Both packages contain exercises and demos for every chapter of the text, illustrating classic experiments and fundamental principles of the text. Many of these exercises record data as the students perform the task, and then report the results to them. I have the students do these lab exercises and then post their results on Blackboard in a discussion forum where they can see what others' results were also.

  • I have used email and discussion forums for student learning journal reflection. I still have mixed feelings about which of those is the better medium for learning journals. And, of course, learning journals sometimes do and sometimes don't achieve active learning.

  • Creating crossword puzzles (via internet) to help as a study guide for each module (in addition to online self-help quizzes) 

  • Assigning each student an online article (all relating to one topic), and having them summarize the article. Then, in class, we create a concept wheel where each person adds results from their study.

  • Discussion groups allow students to bring their own experiences into the discussions, which are intentionally designed to be non-deterministic and as open-ended as possible. Editor's Note: I believe that all faculty can benefit from learning how their students are thinking about the topic. So I always try to ask at least some questions (about their thinking) where I don't yet know the answer. And they know it's a real question for me.

  • All of the courses require a written or other form of presentation. Often this takes the form of a student-produced video, shot and edited by the students using digital camcorders and digital editing computers, VCRS, and editing software. Music students will use MIDI equipped keyboards, music editing and recording software to produce their own CDs. Astronomy and biology students use CCD imaging to record, save, enhance, publish and share astronomical and microscopic discoveries.

Explaining How to Apply What Has Been Taught

  • Pairing PowerPoint with guided notes including poems that reflect the topic at hand (such as poems written during the industrial revolution) including pictures and artwork by culturally diverse artists having students write poems and respond to other poems (this is not a poetry or English class) - it allows them to think about the material and do something with it. 

  • Summarize the process or application of the lesson/learning during a subsequent class, either through email or courseware.

Assignments and Tests That Provide Quick Feedback

  • Server based testing (taking tests on computers linked to a database.

Interacting with Lectures

  • In class I use polling software to pose a question, give students to enter an answer on their laptop computer and then view the results to see if most students understand the concept. Editor’s Note: This kind of polling, sometimes with Personal Response Systems, has gotten good results. Online polling during class meetings goes back over 30 years.

  • My students make us of handheld Personal Response System transmitters to respond to questions. Often, the question is answered twice, once prior to, and again following consultation with a peer. Students may be asked to select from possible outcomes or courses of action from cases or they may be asked to identify relationships between systems. The polling provides immediate feedback to both the students and the instructor. 

  • From the editor: Prof. Monica Rankin periodically uses Twitter during her 90-student history class at the University of Texas, Dallas. The class twitter site is projected on screen.  As Rankin asks questions, students can tweet their answers, which appear on screen. Students appreciate the opportunity for of them to be heard simultaneously, even in a large class. (The same technique can be implemented with a simple online survey, without Twitter's restriction on message length (140 characters), if students have laptops or smart phones, but tweeting enables participation by students with any kind of cell phone. Polleverywhere.com also enables input from cell phones). Here's a YouTube video about her use of Twitter, including the benefits of the 140 character limit on forcing students to state only their main point and her ability to continue participating in the Twitter discussion even when she was traveling. Derek Bruff has investigated Rankin's experiment, and his blog post answers many additional questions about it. (August 2009)

  • I just started using Twitter this summer in one of my courses. I teach statistics, and I asked my students to "tweet" about things they were finding in the news or online that related to statistics (e.g., news reports that included statistical information, uses or misuses of statistics, interesting graphs, cartoons, data sets, websites that teach statistics, YouTube videos, etc.). I was so excited by what I was seeing and about how involved my students got in this "experiment" that I plan to continue doing this in future classes. It got my students looking for how statistics is used (or sometimes misused) in the "real world," and this is one of the learning goals in my course. Plus, I found it was a great way for ME to make announcements to my students about things I was also noticing in the news. I didn't always have the time to go over those things in class, but using Twitter allowed me to get the word out. You can follow me and my class to see what we did. If you enter #epsy5261 as a search term, you'll see things that we all posted. You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MGEverson.   -  Michelle Everson, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, gaddy001@umn.edu, http://www.tc.umn.edu/~delma001/CATALST/  (August 2009)
  • I post lecture outlines that are MS Word documents. The student can take that document and customize it (before or after class) for note-taking, questions, etc. I think that using Blackboard to post documents rather than distributing them in class gives the students a more active role, right off the bat, in their learning process.

  • In notes from PowerPoint lectures, leave blank areas for the students to write concepts in their own words (idea from Gannon faculty, reported by Virginia Arp)

Rewriting (Rethinking) Student Work

  • Certainly the ease with which students can revise and keep writing alive and growing by cutting and pasting has encouraged students to work and rework their ideas in written form.

Faculty Communicating Online to Encourage Active Learning

  • We "encourage active learning" by maintaining a lively interchange and collaboration between faculty teaching sections of the same course -- we have ongoing web exchanges between instructors on teaching ideas and troubleshooting any issues that are raised in classroom practice.

Going Beyond the Individual Course in order to Develop Understanding

  • I use my computer course to assist students in completing research projects for other courses, teach them how to "surf" the net for comparison shopping, and utilize spreadsheets for personal use. 

  • When completing assignments in computer classes, I have the students use scenarios that affect them personally such as a family web page, database, or accounting for their home or business.

Avoid technologies and facilities that encourage passive learning

  • The placement of the "props" of the classroom set an expectation for passive learning--desks facing the front of the room, podium, tiered auditorium seating, screen in front, etc. In addition, instructors who are not tenured or tenure-track carry the title of Lecturer. These cues communicate an expectation of passive learning to instructors and students. -- Kathy Ross, Indiana University Kokomo

Please contribute your own ideas and suggestions by e-mailing Steve Ehrmann at ehrmann @ tltgroup.org. Thanks!


Return to Table of Contents: 'Seven Principles Collection of Ideas for Teaching & Learning with Technology"


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