How to Get Started

Start Small

The University of Minnesota has been a leader in publicizing and implementing active learning strategies.Their Center for Teaching and Learning writes that there are four elements to active learning: talking and listening, writing, reading and reflecting. The types of actives that students participate in include individual activities, paired activities, informal small groups and cooperative student projects.

UM's list of basic active learning strategies is a great place to start. Try incorporating one of their basic strategies at the beginning or towards the middle of class. The University of Minnesota has also created a list of resources to help mitigate some of the potential downside of instituting active learning in your classroom, including student resistance, less control over the classroom and the increased amount of class time active learning might take. Once you feel comfortable using one or two methods, trying increasing the variety or format, or consider how the activity and results would be modified through the use of technology.

Tech Tools

Technology plays a supporting role in active learning. Tools such as wireless display and screen recording can help instructors be free to move around the classroom and engage different groups of students, rather than being forced to hover around the podium to advance slides. Classroom furniture can also support the use of active learning strategies. Technology plays an important role, it can hinder or it can help, but ultimately, most technology is not a requirement for active learning. Even in a classroom with no walls, students can be engaged in inquiry based learning, games and deep thinking. However, if you do have tech tools, it is important to pay attention to how technology changes instruction. Just as choosing between a crayon and a charcoal pencil changes the way that the artist interacts with the canvas as well as the final product, making choices about which technology to use, or not, impacts the learning experience. Hopefully you will find that using a tablet computer in class frees you to be a bit more interactive that would otherwise be possible.

Watch how Janet Bester-Meredith, Associate Professor of Biology uses her iPad and Splashtop in class.

Considerations for a "flipped" course

The "flipped" classroom is a term that has gained a lot popularity over the last several years, however, the concept is not entirely new. The idea behind the flipped course is that students spend their time learning and reviewing content outside of class so that course time can be spent using, reusing, reviewing, practicing, applying and expanding upon said content. The hope would be that content delivery can be confined to mini lectures instead of hours long "content dumps". While students have been asked to read and prepare for class ahead of time for years, what is new is the advent of various technologies that can change they way this preparation happens. Faculty in the iPad learning community might record a series of mini lectures or podcasts that that they would normally have delivered in class. Students would then interact with the content before the scheduled meeting; this means that how in class time is spent should change (if another lecture is delivered in class, there is the risk of turning the course into a course and a half). Active learning pairs well a flipped course when the in class activities complement and expand on the content. Consider ways to spend class time helping students construct meaning from the content. It is important to explain to students the reasons behind the format of the course, especially if they are accustomed to coming to class and just listening. They may wonder why they have to "teach themselves". Structuring in class time so that it is tightly aligned with the homework can help alleviate this problem.