“Active learning focuses on how students learn, not just on what they learn.” (Getting started with Active Learning, Cambridge International Education Teaching and Learning Team, 2020). It is a process where students are encouraged to actively participate in gaining a deep understanding of a topic, rather than receiving information from the tutor only.
A central benefit of active learning is that it keeps the student engaged and motivated, reframing existing knowledge as they develop skills to address authentic new activities. This tends to increase enthusiasm for their studies, as well as helping them to retain the skills learnt for future use. It encourages students to ask questions and to approach the material in a perceptive way in order to gain further understanding.
Collaboration is a vital part of active learning and can be facilitated through the VLE and other supported digital solutions, for example, Microsoft Teams and Blackboard.
How to build an active collaborative digital space for deeper meaningful learning
Collaborative activities lead to improved and enhanced student performance outcomes and group interactions facilitate active learning, shared knowledge, and promote social interaction and a supportive learning community. In doing so, opportunities are provided for students to work together so that they can develop the necessary skills for working on a team which will also enable students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. Collaboration also models how to work with others in real-world situations. Therefore, developing skills for collaboration within a digital learning space is a critical component for our students and their future.
The theoretical basis of active learning
Active learning is a popular learning methodology. Its theoretical basis is framed around:
- The knowledge philosophy of constructivism – where knowledge construction and deep understanding for that knowledge is created through meaningfully constructed activities.
- The knowledge philosophy of social-constructivism – where learning takes place in collaboration with peers and tutors.
What are the benefits of active learning?
A central benefit of active learning is that it keeps the student engaged and motivated, reframing existing knowledge as they develop skills to address authentic new activities. This tends to increase enthusiasm for their studies, as well as helping them to retain the skills learnt for future use. It encourages students to ask questions and to approach material in a perceptive way in order to gain further understanding.
What questions should I ask myself when creating an active learning activity?
There is no one size fits all model for designing active learning as each discipline and its signature pedagogies is unique. But if you are new to active learning, the following questions and ideas may be a helpful place to start:
- What materials do the students need to learn? This could be regarding skills as well as subject content.
- How will the task help my students to learn? Will the task you have created provide them with skills they will be able to apply elsewhere? This is a key factor when applying active learning.
- Aim to include more open-ended questions to encourage discussion.
- Explain how the task is useful to the students. Some students may be hesitant to contribute to this new way of learning, but if they are aware of the benefits, they may be more likely to raise their hand!
Implementing the Digital Learning Space
Implementing collaborative and active learning approaches do not have to be complicated or time-consuming to generate effective student learning outcomes and achievement. A great deal of positive student learning entails understanding the position of other students, seeing what other students are going through, understanding that many of the problems that student X is experiencing are similar to, if not the same, as those experienced by student Y.
You can use digital spaces to help foster a deep sense of engagement for a particular class or course and demonstrate the crucial element of instructor dedication to student learning and achievement. Instructors play a key role in the collaborative and active learning process by establishing the culture of student learning, accommodating their learning needs, and ensuring the classroom functions for its intended purpose, and foster a sense of desire to learn.
Collaborative learning spaces should offer emotional, mental, social and intellectual stimulation and affordances. Students can discuss and share ideas openly and freely, listen to one another, debate, defend their points of view and offer alternative points of view that might be informed by their personal experiences and perspectives. Additionally, they can raise questions for which there might not be any ready-made answers. Students, instructors, technology, and the desire to foster a positive culture are pivotal ingredients in collaborative learning within a digital learning space.
How students learn is also a critical factor in motivating them to pursue their learning to a mastery level. Today’s students were raised in a world of interactive technologies and they are energised when they can actively share ideas and work collaboratively together using technologies that allow them to share ideas freely, any time, at any place. Students develop problem-solving and other higher-order skills through interactions with the course content and each other. To support this, students need to be actively engaged in activities using technologies that enable them to participate. By using the appropriate technologies, collaborative learning spaces can be effectively implemented and facilitated. This need not be limited to Microsoft Teams, but can include Blackboard Collaborate https://eatsupport.tees.ac.uk/staff/knowledgebase/blackboard-collaborate-ultra/ and the use of the features and functionalities within Blackboard (to ensure a well-organised, consistently structured site, please refer to stage 3 of the Principles of Course Design for Hybrid Learning toolkit) https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/2020/07/01/principles-of-course-design-3-structuring-your-weekly-content/ and using Microsoft OneNote to create personal workspaces for example https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/2019/11/01/quick-tips-onenote/
As learning spaces continue to evolve beyond the physical space, transcending boundaries of our learning ecosystem, take advantage of new technologies to create connected, flexible learning opportunities and expand your digital educational toolbox.
Microsoft also has a range of courses based around Engaging 21st Century Learners, covering useful principles on collaborative and active learning design principles – https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/courses
Using Microsoft Teams to help with collaboration
Collaboration is a vital part of active learning and can be facilitated through the use of various digital tools. One example is the use of Microsoft Teams. We have a range of blog posts which can assist you in the application of this tool for active learning:
Sharing and Co-Working on Documents
Microsoft Teams is a great tool to support collaboration and co-authoring. Adding a Word, PowerPoint or Excel file to teams means that it automatically enabled for working together with other users in real-time on the same file. Students who cannot be in the same location at the same time can still work together on a one-word document, which will be useful during this time of hybrid learning. Every user sees who is editing each part of the document, with the Track Changes tool they are also able to see exactly what has been contributed by each person. For group work, this could be important as you are able to see which students have contributed and which haven’t participated as much with the task.
You could also use Teams to share documents with your class with restricted editing facilities. For example, module guidebooks with fixed deadline dates that you don’t want students to modify, or a piece of collaborative work that has reached the deadline and you no longer want your students to be able to work on it. As the leader of the team, you are able to turn collaboration on and off. Instructions on how to turn off collaboration can be found here: https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/2019/02/28/teams-collaborate/
With Teams, you can create an area for each cohort/group by creating separate teams. You can also create private channels within the Team and give access to certain members of the group. This not only encourages your students to communicate and keep the focus on the task at hand but also means you can monitor the discussions and see who is participating more than others. Monitoring the discussion in this way also means that you can give quick feedback to ideas your students have, imitating the on-campus feedback they would receive in the classroom. This can be useful for working in a hybrid format, but also helps you to identify students who may require some further support.
There have been several different blog posts around the effective and creative use of digital tools, which can be found below:
The video call function on Teams is a great way to host live sessions with your students. This gives students an opportunity to ask questions as the content is being discussed. You could encourage the use of video calling as a way of carrying out group work or to give feedback on an individual basis or in a group. More information on hosting live sessions in Teams can be found here:
There is a range of new features that have been added or are due to be added into Teams. Further information on this can be found here: https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/lteonline/2020/06/17/new-teams-features/
If you would like any further support with collaboration on Teams, please contact eLearning@tees.ac.uk
Pedagogic value of lecture capture
One of the key benefits of technology-enhanced learning is in the potential it offers to personalise and allow self-regulation of the learner journey. From the perspective of the student, lecture capture can be highly valued, where students can go over materials again to reinforce learning and allow them opportunities to fill gaps in any knowledge. There is evidence that there are some groups for whom access to recorded lecture material may be a particularly important pedagogic resource. Students learning in a second language and students who require additional learning support appear to make greater use of recordings. In addition, second language learners show different patterns of usage, for example, being more likely to review materials directly after the lecture than other students.
For many first-year students, the lecture format will be a new learning environment. These students may value the opportunity to get a second chance at the lecture content when in this transitional stage. Considering heterogeneous learning preferences, lecture capture can mitigate the problems of lectures that are too fast-paced, too dense, and/or too difficult to follow. Therefore, the flexibility to stop, restart, and review the materials at a time and place of their choosing has very good pedagogical benefits. Additionally, the ability to personalise the learner journey and self-regulate learning via the availability of lecture recordings could significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.
One of the challenges to lecture capture is avoiding passivity which can come from missed opportunities to interact with learners, as well as lack of integration with other technologies. Active Learning using lecture capture can be underpinned by moving image (bringing lectures ‘alive’ with animated moving image content), interactivity (allowing opportunities for students to interact with recorded material in different ways) and integration (interlinking with supporting texts, discussion boards, chat, resource links, self-assessment quizzes and so on).
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Cambridge-community.org.uk. 2020. Getting Started With Active Learning. [online] Available at: <https://www.cambridge-community.org.uk/professional-development/gswal/index.html>.
Ford, M. B., Burns, C. E., Mitch, N., & Gomez, M. M. (2012). The effectiveness of classroom capture technology. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(3), 191–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787412452982