By Janet Schueller
Logically, I think that we can all agree that active learning makes sense, right? After all, we see ourselves learning better when these strategies are used, but will they work for our students? How do we know it’s going to work for students who currently don’t have any frame of reference for the material or the knowledge base about what we’re presenting, before now? This is the question and the fear faced by many faculty as they are confronted with the emerging body of evidence that supports this paradigm shift in pedagogy. Faculty are fearful of potential consequences that students could hold against them because they “didn’t say that in class”. How do faculty get over, or deal positively with this fear in order to help students learn better and to, dare I say it, learn to think and not just regurgitate information? This is scary stuff after all, but isn’t everything in life some sort of leap of faith. For the statistically minded, it may not be enough to read the research about brains and learning, and how the brain learns best, but this may be a perfect fit for formative assessment in the classroom. If you are teaching multiple sections of the same class, create an experiment by teaching one cohort in your traditional manner, and another similar cohort using active learning strategies and them compare grades over time. I would predict though, that the effectiveness of the active learning strategies will be heavily influenced by the satisfaction felt by student’s and faculty’s with the active learning strategies. Quite possibly, regardless of the initial formative results, if students and faculty are more satisfied with how the class goes using active learning strategies, then the more likely they will be to adopt the strategies into the regular classroom.
For faculty who don’t have the luxury of using this comparative model in order to gain confidence in a new model for instruction delivery, the dilemma is different and might take more time, but I would suggest again that if satisfaction is high, then confidence with the new methods will also increase. Formative assessment is still essential as a means to not only identify gaps in student knowledge, but to also support the efforts put in by faculty.
So the question that remains, is how to build satisfaction with active learning strategies? Like any new activity, the more you do the activity, the better we become at the activity and the more comfortable and confident we become. So if you’re interested in implementing more active learning strategies in the classroom, it’s important to come in prepared! Take the time to practice the strategy outside of the classroom in order to identify any possible glitches. Keep it simple because the easier it is for the student’s to follow, the more effective it will be and the more satisfied they will be with the activity. Don’t be afraid or disheartened when students comment, “I feel like I’m teaching myself”, because in essence, they are! That’s because that’s what they need to do in order to experience life-long learning. So one way to trust in active learning strategies in lieu of the traditional lecture model, is to use formative assessment as a means to increase faculty confidence with the effectiveness of the strategies.