Active Learning Guide
Thinking and doing form the vital core of active learning, defined by Bonwell and Eison in their influential Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom (1991) as anything that “involves students doing things and thinking about what they are doing” (Bonwell and Eison 1991). Fink (2013) expanded this definition to holistically consider active learning as a process of encounter, engagement and reflection for students. Active learning strategies, whether for individual students, pairs and small groups, or a class, focus on reading, writing, discussing and problem solving and engage higher-order thinking: analysis, synthesis and evaluation to create a meaningful and memorable experience of ‘thinking about doing’ (Prince 2004). Activities include those described in our guide: jigsaw discussion, think-pair-share, live polling, concept maps, examining case studies. As they incorporate these and other active learning activities into their courses and even co-create active learning activities with their students, instructors may find it very helpful to differentiate which strategies are most helpful for individual students, small groups of students, and the whole class (Wisser, Anderson, and Pousley 2015).
It is important to stress that active learning builds the classroom experience around the intentional learning of educational objectives, not merely ‘being active’ (Li, Lund & Nordsteien 2021). This approach to active learning is integral to inclusive pedagogies that center the voices of students as well as instructors. As Bryan Dewsbury and Cynthia J. Brame explain in Inclusive Teaching (2019), active participation in the learning process educates for critical consciousness (Dewey 1916) and encourages student agency and reflective, personalized learning. (Dewsbury and Brame 2019).
Students’ agency in the learning process, their interactive communication with other students through active learning activities, and the multiple options for engagement these activities allow and are vital to enhancing inclusive learning with diverse groups of students (Gurin, 2000; Freeman et al., 2014) yet by no means ensure it.
As students encounter new ideas, engage with them and reflect upon their learning experiences, it is crucial that instructors sensitively consider how students’ race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, age, and socio-economic class may impact their sense of agency and belonging in active learning activities. The positionality of instructors is also important to consider as they undertake active learning strategies in order to understand both their students and the multiple axes of privilege and oppression they may experience and how their own experiences of privilege and oppression have formed and may affect their approaches to pedagogy (Hankins and Yarbrough 2009).