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"Active learning" is a phrase tossed around a great deal today on college campuses. It suggests an approach to classroom instruction in which students engage material through talking, writing, reading, reflecting, or questioning – in other words, through being active. There are scores of active learning strategies that can be used in classes both large and small. Students can work individually or in groups, and strategies can take as little as two minutes or as long as an entire session.

Active learning strategies are becoming more widely used in college classrooms as instructors discover their many benefits. Research shows that active learning improves students' understanding and retention of information and can be very effective in developing higher order cognitive skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. And as anyone who has employed active learning successfully can tell you, it also leads to increased instructor satisfaction.

Confronting the Realities of Active Learning

Using active learning is not without its challenges, however. Instructors sometimes face disinterested students, time pressures, and classroom management issues when adding active learning to their toolbox of teaching strategies. This online resource is intended to help. By illustrating some of the most common and persistent problems faculty face when implementing active learning, it provides a mechanism for instructors to reflect on and overcome them.

The heart of this online workshop is a series of video scenes, each of which highlights a different challenge or problem one might confront when using active learning. These scenes were chosen to illustrate common issues that occur across disciplines and in classes of varying sizes.

Each scene contains two video episodes, bookends of a sort, which together illustrate the problem and different ways of handling it. The first episode presents the active learning problem or challenge and highlights an instructor struggling to deal with it. The second episode shows the instructor handling the problem in a more appropriate way, suggesting to the viewer one approach for confronting the issue.

Following each video is a discussion of the critical incident illustrated by it and recommendations for addressing the problem(s) presented. You can access the scenes by clicking the links under the "Dealing with Reality" heading. You may have to wait for five or ten seconds for the round video "start" button to appear.

How to Use This Workshop

The purpose of this workshop is to offer guidance to instructors as they plan to implement active learning in their courses. Instructors new to active learning will find a comprehensive list of strategies to choose from followed by recommendations to help get them started, while those currently using active learning can extend their practice by considering new contexts and applications.

The scenes and subsequent recommendations are intended to provide a springboard to thinking about and discussing active learning issues. Instructors may choose to work through selected scenes online at their own pace, considering the questions they raise and referring to the resources for more information. Or they may choose to print out transcripts of selected scenes and discuss them with others in meetings or workshops. It is not necessary to work through the scenes in order.

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