Any number of pedagogical strategies can be used in an ALC. The following list provides a short selection of teaching strategies with which you may want to experiment in an ALC. Most of these strategies can be adapted to low- or high-tech spaces, and many can be used to gauge student learning formally or informally. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and you can discover more possible activities by exploring the Additional Resources for ALC page.
Idea Generation Strategies
Brainstorming is an inquisitive activity usually done in small groups that encourages students to focus on a topic and contribute to the free flow of ideas. In ALCs, some instructors maximize the brainstorming experience by inviting students to project their ideas simultaneously using concepts maps or other graphic organizing tools. Northern Illinois University’s page on Brainstorming is a quick read that can help you get started.
Question and Answer Groups
Question and Answer Groups invite students to work collaboratively by asking and answering questions on assigned content. This strategy is mostly used to facilitate active discussion on any new topic, to review material, or as a preparation for a quiz/test. Here is one way to structure a Q&A Groups session:
- Instructor assigns content to each pod. All students are expected to read the content carefully and come up with 1-2 challenging questions.
- Students, in their pods, discuss the questions they generated and work together to find answers.
- At the end of their discussion, each pod prepares a document summarizing their questions and answers to project to the class.
- Pods take turns in projecting and explaining their work on small screens.
In this activity, students are invited to ask clarification questions regarding some aspect of the coursework that they do not understand. In other words, they’re asked to identify what they see as the “muddiest point” from the day’s lecture, reading, or other course content. In an Active Learning Classroom, individuals or groups of students can use the writing surfaces or small screen projectors to write down their “muddiest point.” The instructor, then, may ask students to circulate and provide written responses clarifying one another’s questions.
Cooperative Learning Strategies
As the title suggests, this strategy engages students in higher order thinking and problem solving through an inquiry-based project. Students work in small groups of three to five. Each group is presented with a challenging problem or case study, and they are expected to work in collaboration to find answers during class time. The instructor may choose to allow students to reference outside resources (textbook, class notes, online resources, etc.) when investigating their problem. Groups, then, take turns to present and explain their work.
In a Fishbowl activity, students engage in structured, in-depth discussion on a given topic. A small group students (typically four to six) form a small circle while the remaining students make a larger circle surrounding them. The instructor presents the discussion prompt and the students in small circle actively participate in debating and sharing their point of views. Students outside the circle are expected to observe and listen carefully to the ideas being discussed as they will also have an opportunity to speak to the topic during the follow-up time. A Fishbowl activity may lead to whole class discussion or may serve as a prewriting exercise for an individual paper or assignment. The Fishbowl Discussion page offers some additional details and variations for using this strategy.
What’s Wrong Analysis
In a “What’s Wrong” Analysis, students are presented with a task that allows them to foster their critical thinking skills and deepen their understanding of a given concept/topic. Students in small groups assume the role of ‘critics’ or ‘editors’ who carefully examine the given content to identify the erroneous information and correct it using their research and knowledge. The task may take a variety of forms in which the information presented to the students is incorrect.
Rotating stations, in which the instructor sets up different stations in class, can be effective in involving students in cooperative learning. Each station or pod has a different task to perform in an assigned time limit. Students work in small groups and rotate from one station to another. The activity is time efficient as it is designed such that at any given moment each student group will be engaged at one of the stations. At the end of the activity, all student groups will have visited all the stations and completed all the associated tasks.
Digital Learning Strategies
Video Conferencing allows the instructor to reach participants virtually beyond the physical classroom space. It gives the instructor the opportunity to broaden the scope of the classroom by inviting outside experts to participate in class proceedings. The Active Learning Classroom at CTE is equipped with ceiling-mounted microphones and cameras that enable clearer exchanges between speaker and students during a video-conference. The CTE supports Zoom as a video-conferencing tool and has developed the Getting Started with Zoom guide for faculty members.
Personal Response Systems
Personal Response Systems (PRS), also referred to as student response systems or classroom response systems, are the interactive technology platforms that an instructor can use to monitor and extend student’s learning. The CTE primarily supports two PRS systems — iClicker and Poll Everywhere — and has developed a Getting Started guide for faculty members.
Typically with PRS, the instructor displays/projects the questions which students are expected to immediately respond to using clickers, cell phones, tablets, or notebooks. Students responses are instantly visible on the instructor screen, either anonymously or with student names depending on how the instructor has set it up. PRS can be effective in both small and large class settings.
Personal Response Systems can be used for a variety of class activities:
- student self-assessments can provide students immediate feedback on their learning progress;
- learning checks throughout a lecture can also help instructors gauge when students are ready to move on or when they need some additional instruction;
- discussion warm-ups can get students thinking about a topic before beginning a discussion of it;
- low-stakes graded activities can encourage greater student preparation prior to class and participation in class;
- peer learning activities invite students to teach each other in response to problems posed via the PRS. Eric Mazur spoke about this approach at his 2012 eTeaching Day keynote address.
See the PRS Teaching Examples resource for additional teaching strategies.
Games and simulations are useful tools for advancing active learning in the classroom. Games focus more on playing and winning in a situation with a specific rule structure, while simulations are more concerned with the recreation of real-world scenarios to allow students to apply specific skills or to engage in particular experiences. Instructors can utilize the unique features of the ALC like moveable furniture, writing wall surfaces, lecture capture, and small screen projections to upscale both the pre-simulation preparations and post-simulation reflections and feedback. Such tools as available in the ALC facilitate the smooth execution of the Game/Simulation and as a result enhance student engagement and learning outcomes.