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What is Active Learning (5:34)
A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
This book examines a particular type of classroom organization known as the “active learning classroom.” This type of classroom is not a lecture hall, but rather, is a room where there is no clear front or back, where students sit in movable chairs around round tables that facilitate group work shared with the larger group via screens. The very organization of the classroom forces the professor to have their back to at least some of the students all the time. This type of classroom interaction seems to be designed for larger class sizes, helping to transform a large lecture hall of students into a classroom where teacher and student interaction, as well as student-to-student interaction, is maximized. These types of classrooms have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ grades, which could be attributed to the room configuration inhibiting certain negative activities while encouraging positive ones. Active learning classrooms provide four main advantages: “immersion learning, the social dimension of learning, collaborative learning, and the performance aspect of teaching and learning” (16). Teaching in an active learning classroom is no longer just transmission of knowledge but a collaborative effort engaging the students for better and more long-term retention of knowledge.
The subtitle of the book is “History, Research, and Practice.” The history of this method of teaching is covered in chapter one. The research that supports the practice is the focus of chapters two and three. Chapter two focuses more on the research aspects while chapter three focuses on the role that social interactions have in learning. The core of the book, chapters three through eight, gives practical suggestions on how to implement the teaching method, and presents common difficulties and how to overcome them. The last three chapters focus on how to help professors learn this method of teaching, a suggested methodology on how to study whether the change of teaching method had a positive impact on student learning, and what the future might hold for this teaching method.
The book advocates a particular physical organization of the classroom. This is not up to the individual professors, but to the institutions in which they work. Even if one does not have the particular physical layout advocated in this book, there are a number of helpful tips for professors who seek to more actively engage their students. With chapters titled, “Assignments and Activities,” “Managing Student Groups,” and “Assessment and Feedback,” it is easy to find practical suggestions on how to make the classroom less didactic and more engaged. Each chapter has helpful and clear subheadings that make it easy to scan for the topic that one needs. Many of these methods are helpful in the religious studies classroom to help engage the student for a greater learning outcome. The examples in the book range from the sciences through to the humanities, helping a humanities professor get ideas on means of implementing the method in their own classroom.
My teacher training focused on goals and assessment. When I conduct workshops on teaching and whenever I am asked for advice on teaching, I tell instructors to clarify goals and work backward. Two years ago I gave a presentation on technology in the classroom. I included a laundry list of ...
A Toolkit for College Professors
Date Reviewed: September 7, 2016
This book is pitched to college and university faculty at all career stages, and it stands out from other books in this category because of its research-based findings and its thoughtful case studies. The authors based their guidance on a year-long research study of 688 faculty from a wide range of institutions as well as on years of personal professional experience. The book covers the major aspects of an academic career: effective teaching and promoting student success, defining and facilitating collegiality and positive relationships within departments and with administration, conducting research, performing effective service to the institution or guild, and moving through the ranks to tenure and beyond. This book’s strengths include the liberal use of longer case studies and shorter scenarios, each of which works through a series of questions and proposed resolutions (for case studies) and a challenge question and outcome (for scenarios). The initial warm-up questions are often quite broad (for example, “Is there any general advice you think might be helpful to your friend?” ) while later questions tend to be more specific and thoughtful, requiring the reader to consider multiple factors and angles within one scenario. These vignettes were well written and thoughtfully prepared, and on the whole they engage the reader quite effectively. That the scenarios are so clearly taken from actual experience makes them more valuable, especially to newer faculty members who haven’t yet seen it all.
Two chapters of this guide focus specifically on teaching. The first, titled “Teaching Effectively in the Classroom,” strongly promotes active learning over lecturing. The case studies in this section deal with common problems, such as how to respond to poor results in student evaluations and what to do when the entire class fails an exam. This chapter emphasizes the importance of learning how to teach large courses effectively, although the authors do include a section at the end of the chapter on “teachniques” for teaching smaller courses. Many new faculty and older faculty who are retooling will find this chapter a useful primer. The second chapter focuses on “Promoting Student Success and Engagement,” with a focus on developing friendly but not-too-familiar relationships with students. Using research and experience, the authors explain the pivotal importance of faculty in shaping students’ lives and ways of thinking well beyond the classroom.
Taken together, these two chapters address many issues of interest to readers of this journal, and the remainder of the book is equally valuable for those looking for guidance and food for thought. As a guide designed for all faculty, this book necessarily elides issues of race and gender, for instance, that significantly shape faculty experience. That said, the book accomplishes much in a short space, and each chapter of the book is short and well-structured. Above all, this book uses the very techniques it suggests for effective teaching, and new faculty members in particular will find themselves better prepared for everyday faculty life after thinking through these realistic case studies.
Working Side by Side: Creating Alternative Breaks as Catalysts for Global Learning, Student Leadership, and Social Change
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Sumka, Porter, and Piacitelli offer both the history and strategy of an emerging educational model that crosses borders between disciplines to develop competencies and leadership characteristics for social change. The authors document “short-term, student-run immersion service trips” designed to sharpen critical thinking and deepen commitment to future action for social justice (8). In this study their primary example of the alternative break movement is an organization called Break Away that grew out of Vanderbilt University. This and other new programs like the Alternative Break Citizenship school (ABCs) are rooted in efforts from the 1960s that experimented in transformational learning experiences combining travel, intercultural dialogue, collective action, and critical theorizing. A common denominator of these programs is the goal of social justice education.
One theoretical framework undergirding these programs is an “active citizen continuum” pointing the way toward authentic relationships for life-long reflection, action, and community enrichment (10). The integration of critical theory and practice moves participants beyond charity and critical theorizing to active citizenship and intercultural competence. A key component of these programs is student leadership. By practicing the actual implementation of the model from the planning and training stages, students gain confidence and facility with each step of the work. In addition to providing the history and theory behind the programs, this book offers practical details contributing to the success of the learning. Readers find pointers on working relationships between staff and students as organizers and leaders of the trips, the alcohol and drug free policy, clarification of the roles of staff versus student leaders, as well as ideas about training, assessing, and fund-raising.
The study would be strengthened by further development of the concept of justice. Despite the significance of social justice to this work, little attention is given to making explicit what is meant by justice. Similarly, the concept of global learning could be explored in relationship to literature on intercultural dialogue, collective action, and transcending political borders. Although this book provides an introductory discussion of what community means, contrasting communities of affinity versus communities of geography, the extensive body of work in philosophical and critical theory developing that distinction is not acknowledged (351). In other words, the academic and intellectual strands contributing to this model are not noted with as much care as the recent history of the particular program.
This is a compelling read for anyone interested in learning that fosters authentic relationships rooted in “values of social justice, dignity, empowerment, and capacity building” (33). Although religious and theological frameworks are not discussed directly, schools or educators who offer immersion or intercultural learning experiences will benefit from reading this research. The authors’ caution about the tendency to slip toward do-gooder tourism, poverty tourism, and forms of educational travel where privileged students unwittingly perpetuate legacies of colonialism is timely and relevant.The conclusion of this book includes observations about the “need for inspiration and collective action” (359). If faith communities hope to be known as sources of inspiration and collective action in the future, this book offers potential for fertile common ground.