"Using active learning in the classroom requires changes in how we define our roles as teachers…[I]t means spending less time center-stage as a presenter and more time offstage as a designer, choreographer, and manager of the learning environment and teaching process";
(Jones and Meyers, p.33).
Teaching in the college classroom today has become an increasingly difficult task. Not only are professors expected to teach a specific amount of information, but now they are expected to teach marketable skills as well, no matter what discipline they are a part of. There is a staggering amount of evidence that states that one way to ensure that students understand and remember material, as well as gain useful skills throughout the semester, is to integrate active learning techniques into the course. What does this mean? Simply put, if we engage students more inside the classroom, they will be more likely to take what they learn, remember it, and be able to apply it outside the classroom.
The next question many people ask is how exactly you go about doing this. Does this mean I have to split my class into groups every day? Does this mean my classroom is always going to be chaotic and I will never get any content into the lesson? In fact, active learning does not mean this at all. Each faculty member is encouraged to begin by writing specific course objectives outlining what students should know and what they should be able to do, or what skills they should have when they leave the class. After examining these objectives it is much easier to figure out specific active learning strategies that will work well in specific courses.
There are several suggestions as to how to make your classroom more active learning-friendly. One way is to create a positive classroom tone. Most college professors share their classrooms with many other faculty, but it is still possible to "spruce it up"; while you are in there. The more visually stimulating the classroom is, the more ready students will be to learn and the more interested they will be in the information being given. It is also important to create a comfortable environment with both verbal and nonverbal cues. The more comfortable a student is the more willing they will be to participate actively in class. Also try to use the teaching space as effectively as possible. If you are able, try to arrange the desks in a manner in which all the students can interact with you and one another. If this is not possible because you teach a large class, try dividing them into groups of five or six so that they can discuss notes and questions periodically throughout the lecture. Finally, try to get to know more about your students before you begin to teach. Figure out why they are taking this class, what classes they have previously taken that are related, what they expect to learn in the class, and what they already know. This will let the students know that you are serious about the class and make them feel more serious about learning.
Sutherland, Tracy E., and Charles C. Bonwell, ed. Using Active Learning in College Classes: A Range of Options for Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, Inc., 1996.
Meyers, Chet, and Thomas B. Jones. Promoting Active Learning. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass Inc., 1993.