Lunchtime Webinar: Facilitating active learning

Creative Sparks - (cc)

ELDT Webinar

Glenn’s presentation was a follow up to the Learning and Teaching Forum workshop ‘Facilitating Active Learning’ co-delivered with Jill Webb, York Management School.


Glenn started by defining active learning as a way to enable students to transition from ‘surface’ learning to a ‘deeper’ understanding of the subject through activity. Active learning enables student-tutor engagement and time-on-task to encourage thinking, involvement and collaboration. In doing so, Glenn argued active learning also acts as a motivator for attending face-to-face sessions.

‘Learning that requires students to engage cognitively and meaningfully with the materials.’

Bonwell & Eison, 1991

In this post, we’ll explore the way that learning technologies support active learning with the ideas suggested by Glenn Hurst through the webinar.

Active learning in lectures

Breaking up the lecture

By mixing up the lecture time, breaking it down into discrete sections and embedding student interaction within the lecture environment, students are required to engage with and process the content during the session. In an example presented by Glenn drawn from Management, this was simply short, group discussions to punctuate the lecture content and allow students time to pause and consider the content.

However, there are other ways that technologies can be used to pace face-to-face sessions such as digital polling (as we’ll see later), or Google Docs with an activity that requires students to create and synthesise their understanding collaboratively with a distinct output. In the video below I introduce how mobile devices and tablets could be used to support active learning in class (though if you are aware of your students’ own device ownership you can exploit that instead of having to provide devices).

In-class polling

Glenn used mini-whiteboards for each student as part of in-class activities that encourage students to put their understanding of a subject written down and ‘out-there’ to engage with others. Students were ask to compare results, sharing their working and approaches with each other. This is an excellent example of a low-tech approach that places emphasis on the thought-process rather than a gadget.

Where mini-whiteboards are great for small groups, they’re not so good for collecting input from the entire class. In-class polling with our TurningPoint ResponseWare mobile app allows students to use their own mobile device to respond to multiple-choice questions, short text responses and numeric responses. In Glenn’s case, the department owned physical clickers rather than requiring students to use an app, though the two systems can be used in combination depending on the departmental system available.

Glenn reported back that from the 30 students in the class, all of them (that’s 100%) “definitely agreed” that “using clickers enhanced their understanding of the topic.” If you would like to find out more about how other departments have used in-class polling for different forms of learning activity and the student feedback, take a look at the outputs from our show and tell on this approach:

There were three examples of using in-class polling that were discussed in Glenn’s webinar:

  • Open-ended questions where students are asked to identify the “more correct” answer. This stimulates critical appraisal and demonstrates depth of understanding.
  • Self-reporting success of answering questions. For example students undertaking problem questions in class can use the polling tool to send back their mark to the lecturer. This allows the lecturer to identify average marks for the group and where success/failures with certain questions are aligned.
  • Peer instruction. Using the poll as a stimulus for discussion.

Peer instruction

Glenn outlined how he used in-class polling with complex questions, sometimes resulting in a 50/50 split in the group as to what the correct answer is. He then asked students to justify their answer to their neighbour, requiring students to think-through their own understanding.

This is well-designed example of active learning. Use of the polling tool surfaced misconceptions in understanding lecture content, an approach explored and popularised by Eric Mazur with Peer Instruction. Far from the lecture being a passive experience, or simply content delivery, the emphasis is instead on the learner and their engagement with complex ideas through a learning activity. The technology, in-class polling, acts as a stimulus, a mechanism to enhance the experience, where the learning takes place through discussion and justifying a position. A second poll often shows a change in thinking.

Designing-in active learning

The second part of Glenn’s presentation introduced examples of the ‘flipped classroom’. Whilst, in many senses, flipped learning is a form of, or alternative packaging of blended learning approaches, the increased role of multimedia has facilitated the shift of lecture-style delivery to online media freeing up the face-to-face contact for activity instead. In particular, Glenn highlighted how the face-to-face time can be used for students to undertake problem tasks with the lecturer on hand to make the most of the opportunity for tutor-student interaction.

Flipped Classroom: Before class deliver new content - During class learning activities - After class develop understanding - all leading towards next topic and assessment

Basic Flipped Classroom Concept

The basic concept of the flipped classroom is dependent upon clear links before, during and after class, with alignment to subsequent sessions and assessment. There are some excellent examples of flipped classrooms using multimedia for content delivery. At York we can support the use of Replay at-desk recording for lecturers to create video learning resources. See our previous webinar on this topic and the references included in the summary:

Creativity and active learning

The final form of active learning that Glenn discussed came from an example by Dave Smith in Chemistry where students created videos as a form of assessment (see examples of the styles of video that could be created). We’ve seen (and supported) similar projects in Archaeology (see Lights! Camera! Heritage! case study). Students here are having to engage with the content in a complex way, demonstrating their deeper understanding in order to convey the fundamental concepts concisely to a public audience.

Video creation may form part of an assessment or, as also described by Glenn in the webinar, used as learning resource for subsequent years teaching. This is an asynchronous form of peer-teaching, developing students abilities in conveying complex ideas in a structured and often creative way. What is clear to students creating these resources is the value and impact of their work on future cohorts’ learning.

With the new Replay system, students can submit video files for tutor-marking or peer-review by uploading a video captured on their mobile devices via our supported app to a Replay drop box. If you are developing an activity that focuses students on external communication, then YouTube is a great option, utilising their York Google account. In tandem, students can upload files to a blog space as part of a reflective log or learning journal.

Further advice

The York Technology-Enhanced Learning Handbook has further guidance on selecting appropriate learning technologies aligned to the learning experience you are designing for students. In particular see:

If you would like to discuss the pedagogy or practicalities of using technology to support active learning, please feel free to contact us in the E-Learning Development Team.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s