Effectiveness of Active Learning Environment: Should Testing Methods Be Modified?

Article excerpt


There is a vast amount of literature available (Boyer Commission, 2007; National Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006; National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003) to show that current college students have lower level of interest in old lecture-based teaching style. This lower interest is due to a variety of reasons including lack of preparation, shorter attention span, lack of instant gratification, trend towards general lack of interest in traditional classroom methods, difference in learning styles, etc. This lack of interest creates an endemic problem that is manifested as students who are not actively engaged in the classroom. And when students are not engaged in the classroom, their level of learning and understanding of the material taught is relatively poor. Despite lower level of understanding, sometimes students may do well in examinations due to better memorizing skill but still lack fundamental understanding of the material taught.

There is a plethora of research to indicate that active learning environments improve students' learning (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Hu, Kuh, & Li, 2008; Kuh, et al., 2005). However, there are vast differences in the active learning environment based on its design, implementation, extent of the active learning component in the material delivered, and the measurement of outcomes. Most researchers are concentrating on the variety of active learning tools and mechanism of making didactic elements more interactive. Fortunately with advancement in the digital classroom technologies and increased availability of these technologies, creating more active classroom environments is becoming easier. Furthermore, use of personal information technology tools like laptops, cell phones, PDAs, ipods, ipads, etc. is increasing rapidly; and the younger generation is more comfortable in utilizing these information technology tools. These technology tools can help to engage students in the classroom thus providing opportunities to create a variety of active learning environments.

However, it is not sufficient to simply change the classroom environment. With the changed environment, other classroom tasks must also be changed. These tasks include delivery of material, classroom management, testing/measurement, etc. Assuming that every plan of the active classroom teaching requires necessary changes in delivery mechanism, it still leaves one major element of the active learning puzzle untended-the outcome measurement.

The research related to the measurement of active learning environment outcomes should start with the applicability of the testing methods to active learning environment. Testing methods designed for traditional lecture-based classroom may not be the right tool to assess the learning outcomes in the changed environment. It is unclear from research that measuring tools created for the traditional classroom environment can be transferred directly to the active learning classroom. Does old fashion paper-pencil examination, which served traditional classroom well, fit as an effective outcome measurement mechanism for the active learning environment? Should student performance be measured just based on the test scores? How will one measure "the increased understanding of fundamentals or better problem solving skills" based on old paper-pencil test? What value should be allocated to the enriched classroom participation? How classroom participation should be differentiated and recorded? This is further complicated by the fact that different subject matters may require different outcome measurement techniques based on the assigned value given to the classroom discussion. Despite a lot of work in the area related to the active/collaborative learning environment, less emphasis is placed on the measurement techniques. This shows that there is a need for more research in the area of assessment of the active/collaborative learning environment. …