Lessons in Higher Education: Five Pedagogical Practices That Promote Active Learning for Faculty and Students

By Cook-Sather, Alison | The Journal of Faculty Development, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Lessons in Higher Education: Five Pedagogical Practices That Promote Active Learning for Faculty and Students


Cook-Sather, Alison, The Journal of Faculty Development


Active learning by faculty members complements and promotes active learning for students. Through The Andrew W. Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr College, faculty members actively engage with one another and with undergraduate students positioned as pedagogical consultants to explore and to practice a wide range of pedagogies. In this discussion, I draw on research literature and faculty reflections to describe five practices that, taken together, hold particular promise for involving both faculty and students more actively in their learning.

Arguments for active learning in higher education generally focus on the importance of students taking an active role in the learning process (Wolf-Wendel et al., 2009) and becoming co-creators of their learning (McCulloch, 2009). I suggest that active learning by faculty members complements and promotes active learning for students and that it is therefore important to extend to faculty members opportunities to engage in active learning.

In the following discussion, I describe a professional development program for faculty members that offers such an opportunity. I then share five pedagogical practices that participants have repeatedly explored and that constitute and promote active learning not only for faculty members but also for the students who enroll in their courses. I conclude with recommendations for how faculty members in other contexts might integrate these practices into their teaching.

The Andrew W. Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute at Bryn Mawr College

As adult learners, faculty members need well-supported forums within which to access and revise their assumptions, engage in reflective discourse, and take action in their pedagogical practice (Lawler, 2003; Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2006; Mezirow, 1991). The Andrew W. Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute (TLI) at Bryn Mawr College (www.brynmawr.edu/tii) invites faculty members from both Bryn Mawr and Haverf ord Colleges to participate in two interrelated forums: (a) semi-structured, semester-long seminars and summer workshops and (b) partnerships with one or more undergraduate students who assume the role of pedagogical consultant.

The seminars and workshops in which faculty participate are open to all full-time faculty members at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. One of the seminars is devoted to supporting incoming tenure-track faculty members, who are given a course release by Bryn Mawr and Haverford College provosts for their participation. Three other seminars are open to all full-time, continuing faculty members, who earn stipends for their participation through a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Summer workshops are open to all faculty. Participation is entirely voluntary, and faculty members choose to participate for a wide variety of reasons (e.g., they are basically satisfied and successful but want to engage in dialogue with other faculty about expanding their pedagogical approaches; they have been teaching for many years and want to try something new; they are frustrated with certain aspects of their teaching; they want to develop a new course or revise an existing one, etc.). Faculty participants span ranks and divisions and range from new to the colleges to those with 45 years of teaching experience. Any faculty member who participates in a seminar or workshop is also partnered with one or more student consultants.

The position of student consultant is open to all sophomores through seniors enrolled as undergraduates at Bryn Mawr or Haverford College. Those who apply major in different fields, claim different identities, and bring varying degrees of formal preparation in educational studies (from those with no coursework in education to those pursuing state certification to teach at the secondary level). The application process includes writing a statement regarding their qualifications and securing two letters of recommendation, one from a faculty or staff member, and one from a student.

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Lessons in Higher Education: Five Pedagogical Practices That Promote Active Learning for Faculty and Students
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