|Title||How Do I Encourage Active Learning?|
|Department||Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK|
|Tel.||+44 (0)171 504 4271|
|Fax||+44 (0)171 380 7565|
This case study is based upon ideas from Charman & Fullerton (1995) and Jenkins (1992), but see also Brown (1997), Cryer & Elton (1992) and Gold et al. (1991).
Buzz groups are named after the hubbub and chatter created by small groups of students engaged in discussions during the lecture. Buzz groups should not be used merely to revive attention, rather they should engage students in thought as well as discussion. This can be encouraged by asking for a minute's quiet individual reflection before the buzz commences.
The technique is to suggest some activity and then to divide the class into a series of small groups. This is easiest when students are already arranged around tables but even in a raked large lecture theatre it is possible.
Arranging students into buzz groups in rooms with fixed seating (from Cryer & Elton, 1992)
Much depends upon the type of activity required. This must be tailored to the students' ability and knowledge - it is no use presenting them with complex data or problems beyond their comprehension. Use an image, a brief piece of writing or video extract.
Students need to appreciate the purpose of using buzz groups. They need clear instructions on what to do, how long to do it and what is expected from them at the end. These instructions must not just be oral; they should be on the OHP.
Students will normally be sitting next to someone they know so there is usually no problem in getting them to talk to one another. Sometimes, especially at the start of the year, this may be more difficult. So begin with a simple task requiring students to introduce themselves to the person sitting on either side by stating which is their most and least favourite meal/drink/country/town, or simply their name and where they come from.
In Practice: (see table below)
It may be that the discussion is so animated that it is difficult to stop the process. Agree beforehand the signal for discussion to cease possibly by turning on/off the lights.
In a large class there will not be time for all the groups to respond. Ask two or three volunteers for their thoughts and then ask for any other groups who would like to add anything new. Don't respond immediately to any of the reporting back, just make encouraging signals, a nod of the head, 'that's interesting, good points'. Any response, especially if it is critical, is best depersonalised and incorporated into the subsequent lecture. It is essential to time-limit the discussion and tell students when they have to complete the task, plus when there is one minute to go and whether they will have to report back.
A class on Central Place Theory (from Gibbs &Jenkins, 1984; Jenkins, 1992)
|1||5 mins||All: a revision OHP is displayed of previous work class has done on the topic while students enter and sit down.|
|2||9 mins||Lecturer: a revision talk on previous work|
|3||5 mins||Students: display the question "What aspects of C.P.T. can be used to analyse the number and location of shopping facilities in towns? Students discuss the question in small groups.|
|4||7 mins||Lecturer: short talk on set question with student questions|
|5||4 mins||Students: a new task is set employing data displayed on the screen|
|6||6 mins||Lecturer: summarises using feedback from some student groups|
|7||6 mins||Students: set a harder task interpreting and examining changes in locations of towns through time using C.P.T., working in pairs.|
|8||1 min||Lecturer: answers part of the question leading to a more advanced issue|
|9||2 mins||Students: continue to work in groups|
|10||3 mins||Lecturer: complete the analysis in short lecture|
|11||1 min||Students: class is set an open question with insufficient time to answer|
|12||6 mins||Lecturer: reviews the material in the handbook|
|13||2 mins||Students: write a brief summary of the lecture|
Using interactive lectures
This approach was used to teach a geographical concepts course where problems had been encountered in the past when consideration was given to perspectives in physical geography. The traditional lecturing approach had not been successful and it was felt students needed more help to develop their understanding of theoretical ideas and their significance. The aim was promoting deep learning by increasing the amount of time students spent thinking. The approach employed was:
|Handbook||Students were issued with notes at the start which identified key points covered in each lecture|
|Discussions||Students were asked to work in small groups at intervals within the lecture:
10 min Questions from students about previous lecture
|Question Box||Students who did not want to speak out in the classroom could ask questions by placing them in a question box placed by the door. These questions were answered at the beginning of the next lecture.|
Both approaches used small-group discussion to promote active learning in a lecture room. The organisation of the time was broadly similar with the lecturer acting more as a facilitator as students were encouraged to investigate issues.
The use of buzz groups requires additional preparation time. The tasks have to be achievable, the questions answerable and set in the context of the lecture. It may be that images, data, multiple answers have to be prepared as handouts or an OHP transparency. The time required, however, is modest, perhaps a couple of hours including the planning. There is some gain in the time spent preparing for the lecture in that the lecture has to contain less material. There is a major gain for the students learning and their confidence to converse with colleagues and lecturers. It is also a very pleasant teaching experience to engage a large audience in conversation and to work together towards greater understanding of a topic. There is only a modest resource cost.
The evaluation of student responses carried out by Charman & Fullerton (1995) revealed a high degree of student satisfaction with only 3% feeling they preferred the more traditional lecture format. Although the typed notes were appreciated almost 60% had not read them before the lecture and only 19% ever asked a question in class. Overall it was felt that lectures had become more stimulating for students and more rewarding for teachers. It was noted however that the low audience participation needed further consideration and the lecturer needed to be able to move amongst the student discussion groups.
Brown, S. (1997) The art of teaching small groups, New Academic, 6(1), pp.3-6.
Charman, D.J. & Fullerton, H. (1995) Interactive lectures: a case study in a geographical concepts course, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 19(1), pp.57-68.
Cryer, P. & Elton, L. (1992) Active Learning in Large Classes and with Increasing Student Numbers (Sheffield: CVCP Staff Development Unit).
Gibbs, G. & Jenkins, A. (1984) Break up your lectures: or Christaller sliced up, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 8(1), pp.27-39.
Gibbs, G. & Jenkins, A. (1992) Teaching Large Classes in Higher Education (London: Kogan Page).
Gold et al. (1991) Teaching Geography in Higher Education: a manual of good practice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).
Jenkins, A. (1992) Active learning in structured lectures, in G. Gibbs & A. Jenkins (Eds.) Teaching Large Classes in Higher Education, pp.63-77 (London: Kogan Page).