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Active Learning Resources


EDUCAUSE online book, Learning Spaces,Diana G. Oblinger, Editor (2006).

Learning Spaces focuses on how learner expectations influence such spaces, the principles and activities that facilitate learning, and the role of technology from the perspective of those who create learning environments: faculty, learning technologists, librarians, and administrators.

Collaborative Learning Techniques: A handbook for college faculty.  
Barkley, E.F., Cross, K.P., and Major, C.H. (2005). San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.



Provides short videos that illustrate issues that may occur when implementing active learning, including student complaints, the time-consuming nature of the work, and group issues. 



Teaching in Active Learning Spaces

supplemental instruction and lessons on volume   Students working in Design Studio, Room 1094

Teaching in Active Learning Spaces

You could say learning to teach in active learning spaces is like learning to ride a bike. But how does one combine active + learning? The kids in the photo above seem to be undaunted by the process of peddling and reading at the same time.

The positives of teaching in active learning spaces is it includes increased learning gains and students report high satisfaction with the learning environment. However, these spaces can present a number of teaching challenges, including: a room with no front or focal point, noise and other distractions that may impact individuals, and a need for mastery of the technology. Teaching in an active learning space is likely to require an investment of time, effort, and perhaps a major shift in the way one thinks about teaching and learning.

Let's take a look at a very popular active learning teaching strategy...the dreaded group assignment.

Group work...oh no!

Are you thinking about dysfunctional behavior when students are assigned group work? Behaviors like social loafing or domination are typical in group work. The groups aren't bad, it's what the groups are being asked to do that is important. Think about interaction and interdependence; how can we force interdependence? How can we design activities where they need every other person on the team? Where the activity provides individual and group accountability.

Let's look at some strategies:

Background Knowledge Probes

A background knowledge probe (BKP) asks for basic, simple responses (short answers, circling / showing of hands, multiple choice questions) from students who are about to begin a session or study a new concept.


  • Instructor determines effective starting points / appropriate levels of instruction for a given subject or class.
  • Students focus their attention on important material.


  • During an introductory music theory course, ask how a minor third is formed.
  • In a philosophy course, ask students to summarize the historical context for Plato’s TheRepublic.


  • For carrying out BKPs in large classes, clickers (Student Response Systems) can be a very quick and thorough method of tabulating student responses to multiple choice questions.
  • Students may brainstorm together and work to arrive at a common answer prior to reporting out on their response.


  • For a variation on the BKP, a different question could be given to each table or smaller group to arrive at consensus regarding the correct answer. Following this decision, use the jigsaw strategy (either as a whole class or in sub-groups) to communicate the question, the group’s solution, and rationale.
  • This strategy can be augmented by following up with other strategies as well (e.g. think-pair-share, or returning to this at the end of the session with the “muddiest point” concept).




State the issue and generate ideas regarding the issue, having agreed upon a time limit. Categorize, combine, condense and refine ideas. Assess potential solutions.


  • Students generate a large number of ideas for potential solutions to a problem.
  • Students develop team learning skills.


  • Role-play; ask students to suggest potential courses of action for the president of a company facing a potential labor strike.
  • Given specific constraints established by the instructor or students (e.g. the issues in question, company size, duration of previous negotiations) prioritize options in terms of feasibility and appeal.


  • Ask students to not only brainstorm ideas, but also verbalize the relationships between the ideas.
  • May be complemented by a mind-mapping activity.
  • Brainstorming can encompass other strategies. See UNC Chapell Hill Brainstorming Techniques.

Focused listing
Mind mapping
Roundtable Think-pair-share
Closing summary
Corner exercise
Buzz group
“Write around the room”


Closing Summary


Have students write a closing or “exit summary” individually or in pairs, listing or summarizing the main ideas about the topic presented during the session. Students can compare and contrast their summaries in pairs to build upon one another’s understanding of the material.


  • What were the three key points or “take-aways” of today’s class?
  • What did you find most interesting? What did you find least interesting? What did you want to learn more about?
  • If you were to make two exam questions that consider the main points from today’s material, what would they be? How would you answer those two questions?


  • Make certain to set aside a couple of minutes at the end of class for this strategy. Instructors may selectively collect the lists and summarize the main points, addressing misconceptions at the beginning of the next class.


  • Ask students to summarize the previous class session at the beginning of the next one, to ensure continuity between class periods.
  • Students can create their closing summaries on the computers, and then share them with others at their table using the screen-sharing capabilities.




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