Active Learning Strategies

Active learning strategies involve organizing individual or small group reflective activities in a way that students are active rather than passive learners.  Active learning is similar to discovery based learning.

These sites present some great suggestions for active learning strategies.

  • Making Active Learning Work (University of Minnesota)
  • Active Learning (University of Michigan) usefully ranks strategies by complexity
  • Active Learning (Wikipedia)
  • Socratic Teaching is an active learning strategy where domain questions are posed with groups of students with the instructor modelling the critical voice through the analytical process.   Could you teach by only asking questions?  It's very difficult.   Professor Lynne Howarth is one of the finest practitioners of Socratic teaching at Uof T.

Active Learning strategies can be faciliated by technology in a number of ways.

  • synchronously, iClicker and other real time audience participation systems can be used to do formative questioning of concepts and understanding in a lecture theatre.  Posing a question, obtaining the class anonymous vote, then inviting students to participate in a think-pair-share active learning strategy is a great way to engage students in discussing concepts in class or examine a key conceptual problem of the discipline
  • the Blackboard Collaborate webinar tool  has a similar ability to engage students remotely and facilitate group activities over videoconferencing for synchronous active learning with polling, document sharing, and a collaborative whiteboard
  • the CTL Assignment Calculator provides a great way for groups of students to work through the steps of an assignment through various scenarios, engaging in the meta-analysis or process of answering an academic question, as well as the answer to the academic question itself
  • discovery learning type class projects often lend themselves to a collaborative online project, such as a website timeline 'timeline.js', wiki or collection of research resources
  • the CTL WebOption program is testing a new lecture feedback module which invites students to rate and ask questions about the lecture at the end of the video.  This can be extended to formative questioning as communities of learners off site engage with lectures during busy study periods.
  • Peer Scholar presents an award winning online sharing system for students to submit and critique work, developed by Professors Steve Joordens and Dwayne Pare in Psychology.  Peer Scholar is now licensed for all U of T users and it will soon be available through the Blackboard Learning Portal.
  • Digital Labcoat offers a platform for students to digitally survey one another's opinions, habits and attitudes and then perform research studies on the data collected
  • Blackboard Tests, mTuner, WebWork, Quizzical and interactive homework systems like Pearson's Mastering Chemistry offer great opportunities for dynamic learning through formative testing, with adaptive responses, crowdsource authoring, links to explanations and worked examples, and online tutoring

While hardware and software tools present great opportunities for active learning, sometimes specifically designed classroom spaces can facilitate more advanced strategies. 

In addition to undergraduate labs and of course our research labs, UTSC has a number of Technology Enabled Active Learning (commonly called TEAL) classrooms which can be booked for active learning and collaboration, including the following:

Screen shot of Instructional Building room 200  Screen shot of Technology Enabled Active Learning Classroom IC302

Images of IC 300, IC 302  To book one these classrooms for an active learning activity, select the 'Calendar' for each room on the UTSC intranet.  [IC300 Skills Lab] [IC302 Skills Lab]

Planning an active learning activity that might involve technology?  Give Brian Sutherland or Adon Irani a call, we can help!

Selected Research

Hoellwarth, Chance and Moelter, Matthew J. (2011) The implications of a robust curriculum in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 79, 540-545.

Ross, J. A., Rolheiser, C., & Hogaboam-Gray, A. (1999). Effects of self-evaluation training on narrative writing. Assessing Writing, 6(1), 107-132. doi:10.1016/S1075-2935(99)00003-3