Ways to Maximize the Benefits for an Active Learning Classroom

Adapted from: Strategies to Address common Challenges When Teaching in an Active Learning Classroom by Christina Petersen and Kristen Gorman. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 137 (63-70) 2014.

Before the Term starts

  • Watch someone teach and use the technology in the space. This is the best way for you to quickly learn about the affordances of the room. Not only will you see how someone else teaches in the space, you can also observe student reactions to the teaching. Sign up for an observation.
  • Limit the amount of lecturing you will do.  Replace that time with activities that encourage students to engage with the material and with each other.
  • Take an incremental approach to changes in teaching. Ideally, you have already been using active learning approaches in your teaching. Focus on one or two new activities to try out the first time you teach in the room.
  • Decide what technology you will and won’t use. Tell students on the first day, and explain why you won’t be using certain technology. Many students expect instructors to use all of the technology in the room.

First Day of Class

  • Tell student why you are teaching in the space. Frame this around the benefit to them e.g. we know from multiple studies that students learn better in these spaces.
  • Communicate your philosophy about teacher and student roles. Acknowledge that this space and how you will teach could be very different than what they may be used to. Describe clearly what your role as an instructor will be and what their role as a student will be e.g. “I will be more of a facilitator of your learning rather than an imparter of information. You will take a more active role in your learning which will help you retain the material better”.
  • Articulate expectations for student-student and student-instructor behavior. Inform students that they will get the most from this learning experience by participating and interacting with their peers and with you. Also establish expectations for respectful interaction.
  • Inform your students that you will collect feedback from them on how their learning is going early in the term. Use that feedback to make any adjustments to improve their learning and learning experience.

During the Term

  • Direct student attention during class. There are many potential distractions in an ALC. When you switch from one activity to the next, be sure to tell students where they should be focusing their attention and what they should be doing.
  • Set aside time for large group interaction. ALCs work well for small group work, but be sure to build in a whole class discussion (even briefly) at the end to allow students to learn from other teams and clear up any misconceptions. It’s also a good opportunity to take questions.
  • Ask for student feedback early in the term. It can be as simple as passing out notecards and asking students “What about this space helps your learning?” and “What about this space hinders your learning?” Then change the things you are willing to change and explain why you won’t be making all of their suggested changes.