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Active Learning Glossary

Glossary of Engagement, Active Learning, and Instructional Technology terms

Active Review Sessions (Games or Simulations): The instructor poses questions and the students work on them in groups. Then students are asked to show their solutions to the whole group and discuss any differences among solutions proposed.

Brainstorming: Introduce a topic or problem and then ask for student input. Give students a minute to write down their ideas, and then record them on the board. For example, “What are possible safety (environmental, quality control) problems we might encounter with the process unit we just designed?” could be a brainstorm topic in an engineering class.

Capstone Project: A capstone is a culminating experience that allows a student to bring the learning and experience of their undergraduate education together to address an issue or question that interests them in order to demonstrate mastery of an academic discipline. These experiences require students to create a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they’ve learned. The project might be a research paper, a performance, a portfolio of “best work,” or an exhibit of artwork.

Case Studies: Use real-life stories that describe what happened to a community, family, school, industry or individual to prompt students to integrate their classroom knowledge with their knowledge of real-world situations, actions, and consequences.

Clarification Pauses: This is a simple technique aimed at fostering “active listening”. Throughout a lecture, particularly after stating an important point or defining a key concept, stop, let it sink in, and then (after waiting a bit!) ask if anyone needs to have it clarified. Or, ask students to review their notes and ask questions on what they’ve written so far.

Collaborative Assignment:  These assignments are designed to be completed in pairs or small groups and offer all students in the group the opportunity to practice writing, providing feedback, and presenting.  Collaborative assignments are also useful tools for introducing students to recognize and incorporate different viewpoints, engage in discussion and debate, and practice teaching and learning from each other.

Cooperative Group Assignment: Instructor delegates an assignment for each cooperative group to complete and submit. Assignment can be a project, presentation, etc.

Experiential Learning: Plan site visits that allow students to see and experience applications to the theory/concepts discussed in the class.

Field Experience/Internship: Students participate in an industry workplace to practice real-world applications of knowledge and skills learned within their programs. If the internship is taken for course credit, students complete a project or paper that is approved by a faculty member.  Internships tend to extend over the course of a semester, while field experiences are shorter and usually involve only a portion of the semester.

Forum Theater: Use theater to depict a situation and then have students enter into the sketch to act out possible solutions. If students were watching a sketch on dysfunctional teams, have students brainstorm possible suggestions for how to improve the team environment. Then, ask for volunteers to try to act out the updated scene.

Group Evaluations: Similar to peer review, students may evaluate group presentations or documents to assess the quality of the content and delivery of information.

Hands-on Technology: Students use technology such as simulation programs to get a deeper understanding of course concepts. For instance students could use simulation software to design a radio antenna with the ultimate goal of understanding electromagnetism.

Informal Groups (cooperative groups, triad groups, etc): Pose a question on which each informal group will work while you circulate around the room answering questions, asking further questions, keeping the groups on task, and so forth. After an appropriate time for group discussion, ask students to share their discussion points with the rest of the class.

Inquiry Learning: Students use an investigative process to discover scientific or engineering concepts for themselves. After the instructor identifies an idea or concept for mastery. A question is posed that asks students to make observations, pose hypotheses, and speculate on conclusions. Then students are enlisted to tie the activity back to the main idea/concept.

Interactions with Diverse People and Content:  Students interact with individuals, perspectives, and content that does not represent the majority viewpoint.  These interactions are intended to help build students’ understanding diverse cultures and global processes, as well as helping to foster intercultural skills.

Interactive Lecture: Instructor breaks up the lecture at least once per class to have all of the students participate in an activity that lets them work directly with the material. Students could observe and interpret features of images, interpret graphs, make calculation and estimates, etc.

Jigsaw Discussion: In this technique, a general topic is divided into smaller, interrelated pieces (e.g., the puzzle is divided into pieces). Each member of a team is assigned to read and become an expert on a different topic. After each person has become an expert on their piece of the puzzle, they teach the other team members about that puzzle piece. Finally, after each person has finished teaching, the puzzle has been reassembled and everyone in the team knows something important about every piece of the puzzle.

Large Group Discussion: Students discuss a topic in class based on a reading, video, or a problem. The instructor may prepare a list of questions to facilitate the discussion.

Learning Community: In a learning community, students place course material into a broader context, give them a social network and support, expose them to new experiences, and develop their critical thinking skills. Learning communities usually feature small group interaction, common intellectual experiences, and mentorship from peers and faculty.

One Minute Paper: At an appropriate point in the lecture, ask the students to take out a blank sheet of paper. Then, ask the topic or question you want students to address; for example, “Today, we discussed conductive heat transfer. List as many of the principal features of this process as you can remember. You have two minutes – go!”

Peer Review: Students are asked to complete an individual homework assignment or short paper. On the day the assignment is due, students submit one copy to the instructor to be graded and one copy to their partner. Each student then takes their partner's work and depending on the nature of the assignment gives critical feedback, corrects mistakes in problem-solving or grammar, and so forth.

Role Playing: Here students are asked to "act out" a part. In doing so, they get a better idea of the concepts and theories being discussed. Role-playing exercises can range from the simple (e.g., "What would you do if a client rejects your engineering design concept based on the cost and usability of the product?”) to the complex.

Self-Assessment: Students receive a quiz (typically ungraded) or a checklist of ideas to determine their understanding of the subject. Concept inventories or similar tools may be used at the beginning of the semester or the chapter for students to help students identify their misconceptions.

Service or Community-Based Learning: Students work with community partners to obtain direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community. Students have to both apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect in a classroom setting on their service experiences with their instructor.

Study Abroad: Students travel abroad with an instructor and learn while immersed in the local culture.   These excursions typically range between a few weeks and a full semester.

Think-Pair-Share: Have students first work on a given problem individually, then compare their answers with a partner and synthesize a joint solution to share with the class.Undergraduate Research: Participating in undergraduate research allows students to learn more about their future professional field, to participate in a scholarly community of like-minded students, and to develop a close working relationship with acclaimed faculty that can lead to scholarships, internships, jobs, international opportunities and admission to top graduate and professional programs. 

Writing-Intensive Course: Students are required to practice and discuss several forms of writing intended for different audiences within their discipline. The instructor provides feedback on the students’ writing, and there are opportunities for students to revise based on instructor feedback resubmit.

Adapted from: 

Active learning, n.d.; Felder & Brent, 1994; Felder & Brent, Fall 2003; Felder & Brent, Summer 1994; Paulson & Faust, n.d.). 

Chris O’Neal and Tershia Pinder-Grover, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan