Have you ever asked your students to write a Minute Paper in class? What about a Jigsaw Discussion? These are just a few of the active learning techniques that we discussed at our STAR (Starting TA Resource Group) breakfast on Wednesday, October 18.

STAR is an ongoing graduate student workshop open to TAs at OSU. STAR meets 3-4 times each semester over breakfast and covers topics such as Active Learning, Impostor Syndrome, and Student Feedback. STAR provides a comfortable, informal space to talk with other graduate students about best teaching practices and strategies.

At our recent STAR breakfast, we started off by establishing what exactly active learning is. In Faust and Paulson’s definition (1998), “Active learning is, in short, any learning activity engaged in by students in a classroom other than listening passively to an instructor’s lecture.”

We learned that lecture, as a teaching technique, is premised on the idea that the mind is a “container” into which instructors can “pour” knowledge by telling it to their students. By contrast, when students learn actively, they themselves draw connections between pieces of information in order to build an understanding of the subject matter.

This method enables students to process the material more deeply than they can in lecture. Active learning encourages students to connect the new material to their prior knowledge and to apply it to new problems; plus, such activities allow instructors to assess student progress in a variety of low-pressure ways.

Next, we tried out an active learning technique ourselves! In a Jigsaw Discussion, groups of students each study one section of a text and then form new groups, in which each member reports on his or her section to the others. In our initial groups, we read about a few active learning techniques and discussed their benefits and drawbacks. When we then changed groups, we not only heard about new techniques, but also got feedback on the strategies we presented.

Finally, each of us developed a plan for applying an active learning technique to our own classrooms. We considered the following questions:

  1. What course content is especially challenging and could benefit from an active learning technique?
  2. What technique makes sense to implement for that content?
  3. What challenges might I and my students face with this activity?

This STAR session equipped us with ideas for both quick and simple activities, like Think-Pair-Share, and more complex ones, like Peer Feedback.

The end of our session brought us back to the topic of lecture: Is there really no place for lecture in the college classroom? Yes, sometimes lecture is the best way to convey information to students. But we will lose their attention with a lecture longer than 15-20 minutes. In tandem with mini-lectures, active learning re-focuses students on the material and maximizes their learning – not to mention making class time more fun for everyone.

Would you like to learn more about active learning? Please consider joining us and ODEE in November for our Technology-Enhanced Active Learning workshop or read more about active learning on our website. Also, we would love for you to join us at our next STAR breakfast about Student Feedback on November 15th!

Carly Martin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature at OSU and a Graduate Consultant at UCAT.