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Teaching Strategies

Active Learning


“Active learning is anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than watching, listening and taking notes” (Felder and Brent).

Active learning is “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell and Eison).

Lecturing is not always the best use of class time. A review of research on engineering education (Prince 2004) found considerable support for active learning. Kolb writes about four learning dimensions: experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting; this chart (BYU 2003) shows how each dimension can involve varying degrees of activity. Rather than categorizing learning as active or passive, the ICAP Framework (Chi & Wylie 2014) proposes four levels of engagement: passive, active, constructive, and interactive.

Selected active learning strategies

  • Write-Pair-Share – a simple technique to provide space for thinking and engage all students.
  • Jigsaw – a collaborative group activity where participants teach each other
  • See-Think-Wonder – “for exploring works of art and other interesting things” (Harvard)
  • Graffiti Board – a shared space where participants write comments and questions.
  • Gallery Walk – participants explore multiple texts or images placed around the room.
  • Round Robin – an iterative technique for generating ideas, building on consecutive contributions.
  • Four Corners – choose one of four options and move to the corresponding corner.

Collections of active learning strategies

Flexible Classrooms and Active Learning

Flexible classrooms are spaces designed to easily transition to a variety of configurations that support active learning. Not all of them look the same, but seating is often comprised of movable tables and chairs, rather than student desks. Students can easily move the furniture into a square for discussion or create areas for group work. There are usually plenty of whiteboards, as well as large display screens on the walls. One popular room configuration features “pods” of laptop-equipped student workstations.

What’s the connection with “flipped” classes?

A flipped class inverts the traditional process of learning basic material in class and applying it for homework. In a flipped class, students are responsible for learning more of the material on their own and then spend much more class time applying what they learn and receiving feedback. The work done in class is usually a form of active learning.

Background reading

Related Kaneb Center workshops

Books in the Kaneb Center library