Active Learning for the Under-resourced and Overwhelmed Instructor

Tuesday 3:50pm-4:10pm Ritchie Hall: 366


David McConnell, North Carolina State University
Jason Jones, North Carolina State University


We will demonstrate a variety of short active learning exercises that have been used in an introductory physical geology course. We will show how these activities are linked closely to learning objectives and provide other examples of assignments that allow both students and instructor to obtain an accurate assessment of student learning leading up to exams.


Active learning provides peer-to-peer interaction as students participate in activities that include opportunities for reflection and/or assessment of learning. Regardless of your experience as an instructor, the incorporation of active learning into large classes may seem overwhelming. However, careful reorganization of time and content can ease this feeling using a mix of common online technology (e.g., CMS) and simple paper-and-pencil activities.
We will demonstrate a variety of short exercises to show that active learning doesn't need to be dependent on exotic resources or overcomplicated to be successful. These activities have been used in both face-to-face and blended versions of an introductory physical geology course with 50-95 students. Demonstrated activities create opportunities for peer learning and include simple paper-based exercises that ask students to work together on tasks such as applying classification schemes to identify rocks or landforms, completing Venn diagrams and concept maps, or sketching and labeling a map or cross section. In addition, we will describe how to link these tasks to learning objectives and formative and summative assessments to encourage students to reflect on their learning progress. Many of these assessments are either not graded or are automatically graded online, minimizing the time taken for class management.


This demonstration will show that these materials will result in more robust learning outcomes if they are part of lessons that are designed around a series of learning objectives supported by online homework assignments, a mix of short lectures and in-class activities, and post-class quizzes. In a given week, students in our course typically encounter approximately 10 learning objectives, answer up to 20 related questions on the homework and another 10 in class, complete 3-6 activities during class in small groups, and have the option of trying up to 50 mastery quiz questions. We will provide examples of each of these elements to show how learning is supported and integrated through all aspects of the course.

Why It Works

On their own these activities are straightforward for instructors to deploy in almost any class setting. The intent is to provide basic examples of how to introduce active learning into courses without the need for special resources or substantial planning. The topics we will select will be common to many introductory courses and many instructors may be able to use them "as-is". The types of activities will also be able to be readily adapted by the instructors to apply to other content.

Presentation Media

McConnell teaching demo (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.5MB Jul15 18)