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Student Engagement in Active Learning Classrooms

A key part of making ALCs work is making sure that students are engaged in what is going on in the classroom. Below are some tips from experienced ALC instructors.

Establish a comfortable atmosphere

  • Have students wear name tags during class at the beginning of the term. It helps the students and the instructor learn everyone's names and makes for a friendlier environment. Make them easier to distribute by having different color tags for each table.
  • Find ways to have fun in the space, like playing music or educational videos as they enter the classroom. Help make it more engaging to students by giving them a say in what you play as an incentive or just by polling them.
  • Take advantage of the fact that the other students at a table will often listen to conversations between a student and the instructor. Sometimes you can get a table-wide conversation going.

Help students take ownership for their own learning

  • While you don't want to give students the answers to all of their questions, only asking them more questions in order to lead them to the answer will frustrate them and eventually keep them from asking questions at all. Look for the middle ground in answering student questions.
  • Encourage student talking instead of instructor talking. One way to do this is by taking advantage of students' tendency to listen to their peers more critically and having students explain things rather than the instructor.
  • At the end of an activity, have students pass their notes to the person beside them to summarize the purpose of the activity and then return the notes. Have students read the best summaries. Students have an opportunity for reflection and are sharing what they think were the main ideas.
  • After groups have completed an activity, ask students what they learned and add their responses to the lecture slides. This helps demonstrate to students that their contributions are an important part of the class.

Hold students accountable both as groups and as individuals

  • Randomly call on students so that they all need to always be prepared.
  • Give weekly quizzes so they can assess what they have learned as individuals.
  • Make sure students are aware how much time remains for an activity by using a timer. This also helps make class time more efficient.
  • Begin visiting groups immediately to make sure that students don't delay starting an activity.

(Some material adapted from Faculty of the Biology Program, U of MN CBS; NCSU SCALE-UP; OIT; Wolfe.)