Active learning is an approach that engages students in the learning process through writing, reflecting, talking, and problem-solving. There is a well-established evidence base supporting active learning as a means of improving student outcomes.
Cornell’s Active Learning Initiative showcases strategies professors are using to promote hands-on, engaged learning.
University of Minnesota’s Center for Educational Innovation offers a helpful introduction to active learning, including samples of active learning activities.
The University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence has a useful explanation of active learning. Scroll down for an expandable list of activities you can try in your classroom. Learn how to play Dotmocracy, stage a Structured Debate, or have a Mitten Discussion!
Classroom assessment techniques are simple, low-stakes classroom activities to give you and your students a clearer picture of their learning so you can make adjustments throughout the term. There are a variety of assessment tools you can use, and some take only a few minutes of class time.
- How can you tell if students are learning? Professor Meriah L Crawford of Virginia Commonwealth University offers A Simple Trick for Getting Students to Ask Questions in Class.
- Download this Learning Assessment Techniques Quick Reference Guide, for more ideas on how to keep students engaged and check their understanding.
Inclusive teaching is an approach that facilitates meaningful, accessible, and equitable learning for all students and that leverages the diverse strengths of both students and faculty.
Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost at The University of Texas at Austin, explains in this short video what it means to be an inclusive teacher, and why inclusive teaching is so important to student success:
How do you create a classroom environment that acknowledges and honors the diversity of your students and supports them in their learning? Being an inclusive, culturally-responsive teacher is an ongoing process that involves examining your own background and biases and learning about your students and their needs. Here are some concrete steps you can take:
Engage in Self-Reflection
Harvard’s Implicit Association Test can help you recognize assumptions and biases about race, culture, gender, and disability that you didn’t know you had. The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), offers this brief video introduction to reflecting on your assumptions and experiences
Develop Classroom Norms with Students
To help create a classroom climate of inclusion and trust, Dr. Viji Sathy, senior lecturer of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, asks her students on the first day of class:
“What can you do exhibit professionalism in the context of this course?”
Her students suggest things like “Show up on time,” “Come prepared,” and “Be respectful of others.” Those classroom norms and expectations get put into the syllabus, and the class revisits them from time to time. Watch her pose the question in the one-minute classroom norms video below:
Know your Students
Learn about the cultures and identity groups represented in your class and at the college. The more you understand your students’ values, beliefs, and lived experiences, the less likely you will be to make assumptions about their behaviors.
Here are some concrete steps you can take in the classroom to demonstrate inclusiveness.
- Ask students to email their preferred names and pronouns to you before the first day of class, if possible. That way, you don’t have to rely on the roster, which provides their legal names. Some instructors ask students to record themselves pronouncing their names and upload these audio clips to Canvas. This helps the instructor learn how to pronounce the students’ names correctly.
- Clarify how you want students to address you, especially if you teach students from a range of educational and cultural backgrounds.
- Avoid making assumptions about students’ abilities based on stereotypes (example, “I’m offering a special tutorial because I know women struggle with math”).
- Convey the same level of confidence in the abilities of all your students. Avoid framing your course as a “gatekeeper course” meant to weed out students who are less motivated or less capable. This may trigger student insecurities and “imposter syndrome.” Instead, communicate your high expectations and your belief that all students can succeed. Explain how you will help them be successful.
- Provide readings, images, and examples that are diverse so that your students see themselves represented in your course materials.
- Demonstrate empathy and perspective-taking. When conflicts arise in class, challenge behaviors that are disrespectful or judgmental. Refer back to the classroom norms and remind all students of their responsibility for creating a safe and inclusive learning environment. Challenge students to identify and bring forward missing perspectives and voices.
- Create opportunities for students to interact with people who are different from them. For instance, during class activities and group projects, you might place students into groups that are diverse. Contact Theory suggests that greater contact with another group reduces biases and stereotypes.
- Treat each student as an individual. Don’t make assumptions about students’ membership in various demographic groups. Instead, let them self-identify as they wish, when they feel comfortable doing so.
- Don’t ask a student to speak for his or her “group.” For instance, don’t ask a student to give “the Latino perspective,” or “the female perspective” on a topic.
The websites below offer a wealth of additional resources about inclusive teaching:
UNESCO defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as "any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.”
A recent SBCTC report identified some of the benefits of using OER, including cost savings for students, increased collaboration, and more diverse content.
The Edmonds College Library has created a resource guide for finding and using Open Educational Resources:
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to curriculum development that takes into account the variability of all learners and provides equal access to learning opportunities. In a UDL classroom, instructors provide multiple means of representing information. In addition, students engage with the information and express their learning in multiple ways.
The nonprofit education research and development organization CAST has a wealth of resources to help instructors understand and implement UDL principles:
Group Projects give students an opportunity to collaborate, tackle complex projects, and practice skills they will likely need to use in the workplace. In this video on Teaching Teamwork, University of Washington faculty Randy Beam (Communication) and Erin Hill (Physics) describe how they integrate instruction on teamwork into their regular courses to help student succeed in short-term and long-term class projects.
- Babson College has created a Group Survival Guide for working in project teams. The resource is broken down into topics such as “effective teamwork in student group projects,” “managing conflict in project teams,” and “strategies for dealing with problematic behavior.” Each topic is enhanced with short videos.
- The American Society of Cell Biology (ASCB) offers a series of evidence-based teaching guides, including this one on Group Work.
- Published in the Journal of Student Centered Learning, this article on Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams offers practical advice and templates you can use in your classroom to create, monitor, and evaluate student groups.
- This resource, from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) at University of Michigan, focuses on creating successful student teams in the engineering classroom and beyond. It also provides an evaluation form for team projects: Student Teams in the Engineering Classroom and Beyond: Setting up Students for Success.
Library and TLC Resources
The library also has an excellent Faculty Development Resources page with curated articles, books, and videos on a variety of teaching topics.
Around the Web
Many colleges and universities have created and shared excellent resources for teaching and learning in higher education. Here are some worth checking out:
- Solve a Teaching Problem (Carnegie Mellon University)
- Teaching Resources (Indiana University Bloomington)
- Resources (Kennesaw State University)
- Teaching Support (Northeastern University)
- Resources (University of Michigan)
- Instructional Strategies and Teaching with Technology (University of Texas at Austin)
- Teaching Tips (University of Waterloo)
- Teaching Guides (Vanderbilt University)
Add a podcast to your commute for on-the-go professional development. Try these:
- Cult of Pedagogy Podcast -- Jennifer Gonzalez interviews experts and offers "advice on ways to make your teaching more effective and more fun."
- Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast -- Bonni Stachowiak explores "the art and science of being more effective at facilitating learning" and shares productivity strategies for teachers.
- The Teach Better Podcast -- Doug McKee and Edward O-Neill host a series of conversations with teachers about teaching.