Addressing Active Learning Concerns
Active learning can be integrated into a variety of contexts and help overcome teaching and learning barriers.
Many of the concerns listed on this webpage use technology to address problems that may arise when building in active learning. Here you will also find additional resources to help facilitate teaching using technology integrations.
Concern: There is no time to add more to an already packed lecture.
- Swap direct instruction and homework (see flipped classroom model).
- Remove some direct instruction from class time and assign it for homework (e.g., using videos or readings).
- Adapt homework for in-class or online interactive activities.
Concern: Implementing interactive activities means adding more assignments that need grading.
- Peer assessment: Create low-stakes assignments that students need to complete to succeed on other graded projects or assignments.
- Technology: For example, in UB Learns you can set up low-stakes assessments that can be automatically graded to ensure that students are coming to class prepared.
- Small groups: This reduces the number of assignments that need grading and provides students with the opportunity to engage with and support their peers.
Concern: Students have too many questions since active learning is unfamiliar.
- Set clear expectations for the assignment and give examples and rubrics when applicable.
- Ask students to post their questions to the class message board. If one student has a question about a part of the assignment, it is likely that others do too.
- Collect student questions and create an FAQ page. This FAQ can be an online document or attached to the syllabus.
Concern: Students are resistant to participating in class.
- Clearly explain why students are being asked to engage in these tasks and highlight the benefits for them (see Evidence of Active Learning's Effectiveness).
- Depending on the delivery mode, engage with students by walking around the room or using breakout rooms.
- Plan activities that students perceive as relevant and valuable. Be explicit about these learning outcomes and why they are important.
Concern: Students are distracted and off-task.
- Adopt facilitation strategies where the instructor engages with students while also working to discourage distractions. Instructors should not be hesitant to refocus students on their work.
Concern: Students are unprepared for class.
- Make your expectations clear. Explain to students what it means to be prepared and what they should be able to do when they arrive to class. When giving an active learning assignment, students need to know what to look for, how to identify the important parts and understand why it matters.
- Hold students accountable. A “ticket to enter” strategy asks students to complete a task as part of their pre-class work. Other strategies include: a low-stakes quiz, writing three questions based off the reading or posting to the class discussion forum. The instructor can use this information to adjust class time as needed to address potential misconceptions.
- Allow students to bring a one-page “cheat sheet” to class as their only resource for completing a group activity. If they know the groups in advance, students can collaborate and develop sheets as a group rather than as individuals; this holds them accountable as a team member. Some additional solutions from: Honeycutt, B. (2016). Five Ways to Motivate Unprepared Students in the Flipped Classroom. Faculty Focus, April, 4th.
- Have a conversation. Identify who is not prepared and see if this is a trend. Talk to the student or arrange a future meeting. Once students realize they are on an instructor's radar, they often resolve their unpreparedness.
- Proceed as planned by reviewing material students struggled with and move forward with in-class activities. Do not give a quick lecture to reiterate the pre-class work. Unprepared students will learn that class time will not be derailed by their lack of preparation.
- Rethink participation grades. Make the completion of pre-class work a significant part of participation and their final grade. This allows instructors more flexibility in determining what counts as “participation” and encourages student preparedness.
Concern: Sorting many students into groups creates conflicts.
- If students need to meet outside of class, utilize a tool such as Doodle to create groups based on availability. Or use a simple Google Forms survey to collect metrics that will help determine how students are grouped.
Concern: Supervising student work can be overwhelming.
- Have students work in a digital environment (e.g., Google Drive or UB Box) and then send a link to their group folder. The instructor or TA can decide how much oversight they would like to provide. This also creates a time and date-stamped paper trail of the work each student contributes.
Concern: No time to grade additional work.
- UB Learns has automatic grading built into its quizzes. Peer grading can also be useful, but students will need direction on how to properly critique and give feedback.
- Use a rubric. Rubrics answer many common student questions and clearly communicate your expectations for the assignment.
Concern: Many students need help, and I am the only instructor.
- Encourage students to ask their peers before asking the instructor. Use message boards in UB Learns, or on other class channels such as Twitter, Facebook or Padlet where students can post questions, and everyone can respond.
Educational technology can help overcome difficulties of implementing active learning due to:
- Physical barriers in the classroom
- Ratio of students to faculty
- Complexity of active learning tasks
If used appropriately, educational technology can support both teaching and learning by expanding experiences and learning materials, supporting learning outside the classroom and potentially increasing student engagement and motivation.
Research article that explores several interrelated strategies used by instructors to reduce resistance to active learning.
- Finelli, C. J., Nguyen, K., DeMonbrun, M., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Husman, J., ... & Waters, C. K. (2018). Reducing student resistance to active learning: strategies for instructors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(5), 80-91.