Magazine article University Business

Creating Active Learning Classrooms: Fostering Interaction, Conversation and Collaboration

Magazine article University Business

Creating Active Learning Classrooms: Fostering Interaction, Conversation and Collaboration

Article excerpt

A University Business Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on September 22, 2016

A variety of recent studies have shown that active learning--engaging students through activities, discussion and collaboration--is more effective than traditional lecturing, and can even result in better exam performance and reduced failure rates. Technology often plays a significant role in the active learning classroom, by providing real-time feedback, improving information retention and promoting meaningful interaction between an instructor and students.

In this web seminar, attendees learned some key strategies for implementing student response technology from a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who is using the REEF platform from i>clicker to create highly engaging active learning environments.

Renee Altier: We are keenly focused on the topic of active learning and interested in supporting the efforts of faculty and administrators who want to incorporate active learning into higher education. We're also interested in helping students take a more active role in their own learning and develop higher order thinking, and our mission is to develop tools to accomplish that.

There's a growing body of empirical data that shows active learning is much more effective than traditional lecturing. One of the most interesting studies is from Scott Freeman and his colleagues, out of the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They did a meta-analysis of 225 previous studies comparing student outcomes in STEM courses that used only lectures, versus those that incorporated group problem-solving, use of clickers, workshops or other forms of active learning.

They found that students in active learning environments scored 6 percent better on exams than their counterparts did, which would roughly translate from a B+ to an A-. But even more interesting is that students who were in lecture-driven sections were about 1 1/2 times more likely to fail than their peers in active learning environments. About one-third of the students in a traditional lecture section either withdrew or got an F or D, compared to about one-fifth of the students in active learning approaches. Freeman also said their findings held across all STEM disciplines, in all sorts of class sizes and course levels.

Common obstacles

There's a question among active learning activists about why the approach is not more prevalent and why it hasn't caught on beyond a small percentage of the teaching population.

First of all, I think it's not easy for many instructors. The research is rather distributed, it's fairly segmented, and it's not organized across all disciplines. In terms of broad academic research, there isn't a well-organized repository. Beyond the research, a lot of educators say that active learning can be very time-consuming, it takes a lot effort, and doesn't necessarily impact an instructor's work toward tenure or lead to a promotion.

Another obstacle prevalent in the research is that students may resist switching to active learning, for a number of reasons. They may have a poor image of themselves as learners, they may be uncomfortable with the different format, or they might not understand the purpose of it. And frankly, it requires a lot more work. A key obstacle to overcome when creating an active learning environment is encouraging students to engage with their own learning. …

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