Strategies: Active Learning in the Physical and Virtual Classroom.

This is a continuation of the Active Learning Series of blog posts. See the last blog post for an explanation of what Active Learning is, and its importance. This blog entry will look at Active Learning in both physical and virtual classrooms. Specifically, I will look at the strategies employed by teachers in the physical classroom and look at what can be done for my own virtual classroom.

Active Learning in Action in a University Classroom

The following video from McGill University looks at employing active learning techniques in the classroom. Have a gander.

From watching this video, I’ve learned the following about Active Learning:

  • Classrooms are arranged in a way where there is no front or back of the class. Students cannot hide and are encouraged to participate.
  • Collaboration is key in this type of learning. Students are placed in small groups and are encouraged to ask one another for help or perspectives.
  • Students are held accountable for what both they and their group learns.
  • The teacher becomes moreso of a facilitator and education is no longer top-down.
  • Class is more activity-based than it is lecture-style.
  • With the aid of technology, learning becomes real-time. For example, rather than relying on resources like the class textbook, or whatever other resources the teacher has on-hand, students can (and are encouraged) to research online during class.
  • Encourages a healthy attitude towards learning – being wrong isn’t bad, it’s good because it’s another opportunity for learning to happen.

Employing Active Learning in my Virtual Classroom

My classroom is virtual. I connect with students via conference line and over the web and share my desktop to conduct software training. Webcams are not used as it slows down the virtual training session and creates unnecessary technical lags. The class size is rarely larger than 4 learners, as that is the limitation I’ve placed. The students in a class belong to one company. Their goal is to learn the software tool to be able to conduct research through online surveys.  Learning what I have from Active Learning in a physical classroom, there are a number of techniques I can use to encourage Active Learning in the virtual classroom.

Because there is no physical aspect to a virtual training session, one may assume that there is no “back of the classroom” where a student can hide. However, there is. My learners can decide to not speak up. A means of addressing this is the use of a webcam where I can see each student, however, this is a hindrance on bandwidth and can slow down the training session.

Essentially, what needs to be done is to create a sense of accountability in each learner. Each learner is not only accountable for their own education, but for the education of the entire team. This encourages a learner to speak up, and provide input. To create a sense of accountability, I, the instructor, will do the following:

  • Ask the learner how they are working together as a team on a research project in relation to the software. Essentially, ask what their role is in the team, and how they will depend on one another. Be clear that because there will be that type of relationship outside of training, that they will need to have that type of relationship in training too.
  • Ask each learner what they would like to be able to do upon completing the training sessions. Piece all their goals together and show how they are interdependent.
  • Create a safe learning environment where the learners feel comfortable speaking up. This means emphasizing that there are no wrong questions, or perspectives and that they are experts of their own experiences.
  • Facilitate discussions to encourage students to share their perspective on a feature of the software. If there are differences in opinion, encourage research outside of the training session to be shared in the next session.
  • Focus the students on what they have learned at the end of each session to be shared with their colleague. They are not there to be judged on how well they perform learning tasks. The focus is on education.

In terms of activities in line with Active Learning, I will do the following:

  • Pass students mouse control: They take over my computer, and complete tasks in the software. I will encourage students to help one another when they get stuck.
  • Provide problems they will need to solve as a team: For example, I may ask them , “How would you go about setting up the survey so that you are inviting respondents who have either a Masters Degree or an income of $75k and who enjoy gardening and water skiing.”
  • Provide opportunities for them to share their perspective (relating to features in the software): For example, I state, “This feature allows you to turn off the back button on your survey. From your experience, what is best? Having it on or off?”

What are your thoughts? What are some things that could be used in a physical or virtual classroom to facilitate active learning?

Looking for more posts about Active Learning? Check out the Active Learning category in the footer of the page to pull up these posts. Also check out the blogs in the Resources where my colleagues have written about Active Learning. In the Other Resources section there is a section dedicated to Active Learning.

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Concept: Active Learning – What is it and who cares?

What is Active Learning?

The term Active Learning conjures up images of students performing some activity to learn. For example, if I were to teach a friend to knit, I wouldn’t lecture and provide theories about the act of knitting, but rather, hand him/her knitting needles and a ball of yarn and walk him/her through the mechanics of it. The former is more passive whereas the latter is more active. However, the latter isn’t only more active in a sense that the learner is performing a task, but the mind is also more actively engaged.

Why should we (as teachers) care about Active Learning?

According to Elizabeth Barkely in her textbook, Student Engagement Techniques (2010), Active Learning is one of two components of Student Engagement, the other being Motivation. Student Engagement is particularly important as it results in increased knowledge acquisition, and cognitive abilities.

As we will see in a later blog entry, a number of students can attest to how active learning is more enjoyable than passive learning.

Stay tuned for the next post about Active Learning. For even more posts about Active Learning, click the Active Learning category at the footer of this page. Also check out the blogs in the Resources where my colleagues have written about Active Learning. In the Other Resources section there is a section dedicated to Active Learning.

Hello world!

Hello from beautiful Vancouver, BC!

I took this photo while on a winter run.

Just what is this blog about? Well, this blog is focused on Instructional Strategies and will draw from various resources on the web and in print. This blog will look specifically at the topic areas of Active Learning, Positive Learning Environments, Motivational Strategies, Classroom Management, Questioning, Learning how to Learn, and Thinking Skills (Creative, Critical and Meta-Cognition).

Each topic is broken up into Concept and Teaching Strategies posts. Concept posts look at theories related to the topic whereas Teaching Strategies posts look at specific strategies that you can employ in the classroom. You will find multiple posts within each of the topic areas. The reasoning for this is two-fold: 1) The posts are more digestible broken up into multiple entries, 2) I write entries as I discover new tools, strategies, or connections between concepts.

There are Categories in the sidebar that enable you pull up just posts related to a particular topic.

Be sure also to check out the menus at the top of the page to learn more about me and to access other resources.

Have an opinion, question, or thought? Feel free to leave comments for the blog entries!