2.5. Active Learning & Group Work

A growing body of research shows that active and interactive learning, when executed well, increase student engagement, learning gains, and retention. A large metaanalysis of controlled studies in STEM fields showed that students in classes that incorporated active learning performed better on exams and were less likely to fail their courses (Freeman 2014). Such improvements are striking in a normal semester, and become even more crucial in the face of disruption and increased distraction - student feedback on the spring 2020 semester suggests that students had a harder time focusing on zoom-based lectures compared to in-person, and particularly appreciated their professors making remote class sessions interactive. 

We provide specific active learning ideas in the “Day to Day Teaching” module, and here focus on the planning process.

To incorporate active and interactive elements into your classes, think about your preparation process as “experience planning.”

  • Ask yourself, “how can I create engaging learning experiences during this class session that allow my students to actively engage and practice the goals of my course?”
  • For each class meeting, it is helpful to focus on a few micro class objectives that map to your macro course learning goals.
  • Then determine which active learning strategies would best create experiences to have students interact, practice, and apply their knowledge and skills informally. This should provide scaffolding and formative practice that prepares students for larger summative assessments later in the course.
  • Next, remembering the situational factors you thought about previously, decide which technology (chat, a collaborative Google Doc, a poll, etc) would best facilitate your active learning strategies.  When you introduce an activity, tell students its purpose, their task, and your specific expectations.
  • Lastly, leave time after the activity to have students deliberately reflect on their takeaways from the learning experience.