Student Evaluations and Resistance

It is not unusual to experience some student resistance when switching from lecture to active learning. Students may be comfortable learning in a particular way and feel uncomfortable changing that pattern. They may fear they don’t know how to learn in the new environment. The best way to deal with this is to prepare for it ahead of time with strategies that help students feel confident in your teaching approach and trust that you are doing what will best help them learn.

A recent article by Charles Henderson, Raquib Khan and Melissa Dancy surveyed Physics instructors who attempted to incorporate active learning in their teaching.

Most Common Positive Comments

Instructors shared was that their students:

  • Felt they were learning more
  • Found the class to be more enjoyable
  • Liked to interact with others
  • Liked the use of technology
  • Felt the instructors cared for their learning
  • Appreciated that the instructor broke up the lecture
  • Liked problem-solving

Most Common Student Complaints

The most common student complaints and resistance to active learning and some ways to address them.

Complaint/Form of Resistance


Students felt instructors were not teaching

"We had to teach ourselves!”

  • Inform students on Day 1 why you are switching to this new format
  • Describe the new roles you and they will be taking on
  • Advise them on how to best learn with these new roles

Students do not like to work in class – Some students prefer to sit passively in lecture and do the work on their own outside of class

“I come to lecture to get information, not to work”

  • Inform students that it is important for them to work on difficult problems together with you and other students present rather than on their own with no help. 

Students did not know what to expect from the class

“I’m afraid I won’t do well in this new teaching approach”

  • Provide students with your expectations for them on Day 1 and tell them what they can expect from you.
  • Inform them that you will be collecting their feedback along the way and making adjustments as needed.

Students do not like to interact in class

“I’m an introvert” “I don’t like relying on other people for my learning” “What if I’m stuck with someone who isn’t as smart, driven etc. as I am?”

  • Acknowledge that this may be uncomfortable for some students, but there is a great deal of evidence that they will learn better this way.
Students felt the class was not organized  

“My class has been described as ‘disorganized’…”

  • Try to develop some sort of pattern to repeat each class session so that students become familiar with it.
  • Provide students with an outline each class session before it begins. Consider revisiting that outline at the end of each session as a way to summarize.

Additional Advice


Consider putting some of this information in your syllabus. Addressing this in the syllabus prepares students for your teaching approach.

First Day of Class

Consider explaining some of this information on the first day of class. Tell them what you will be doing and why you are doing it.

Reinforce Messages

Prepare to reinforce these messages. Once is not enough. Think of this as a vaccine that needs occasional booster shots.

Refer to Past Successes

You may share with them some end-of-term comments from previous students, or even bring in a student from previous terms to talk with them. If this is your first time using these methods share with them the literature that shows this method works. Here is a link to some of the major papers advocating for this method.

Early Term Feedback

Ask for student Feedback early in the term. Ask students what is helping their learning and what could be changed to better help their learning.  Respond to this feedback by informing students of the changes you will make and reasons why for the changes you will not make.

Stay Confident

Stay confident in the face of resistance. It is easy to begin doubting whether you are doing the right thing, but being prepared for student resistance with strategies that can deflect it should help you continue on the path.

Iterative Process

Recognize this as an iterative process. It won’t be perfect the first time around but no teaching is.

Webpage title and content adapted from: Henderson et al., Will my student evaluations decrease if I adopt an active learning instructional strategy? In press (2018).