Adapting Active Learning Strategies in Your Courses

Thursday, Friday 8:30am-11:30am TSU - Humphries: 327


Rachel Teasdale, California State University-Chico
David McConnell, North Carolina State University

Research in STEM disciplines has revealed that empirically validated instructional practices that can contribute to improvements in student learning and a reduction in attrition. We will outline a series of consistent steps for redesigning lessons to incorporate "active learning" practices. The workshop is designed to accommodate instructors with a mix of experiences; from those with no history with active learning to instructors seeking to incorporate new strategies to their courses.

This workshop is able to provide all of its eligible* participants a $250 stipend that can be used toward registration compensation for the two days of the workshop. Funding will be available to provide qualified* participants with the stipend unless they choose to waive it by contacting Katherine Ryker. Small travel stipends are also available on a needs-basis. To apply for a travel stipend, please complete the travel stipend application form by May 30. All stipends will be disbursed after the Rendezvous, provided you participate in the entire workshop.

*Please note that as these stipends are NSF-funded, to be supported by this funding, a participant must be either a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or in the employ of a U.S. institution. All participants are expected to participate in the entire workshop. If you are also receiving a stipend from the Designing Effective Lessons for your First Geoscience Course, the maximum total registration stipend award is $500. Also note that if you receive funding from this grant, that will count toward the $500 maximum travel stipend available from NAGT.


This workshop will present a variety of active learning strategies for use in introductory and majors-level courses. Intro courses are important as they serve as the beginning and end of many students introduction to a discipline, topic or way of thinking. The student experience in introductory STEM courses has been identified as a critical tipping point for student persistence. Research in various STEM disciplines over the last few decades has revealed a suite of empirically validated (active learning) instructional practices that can contribute to improvements in student learning and a reduction in attrition.

This session encourages you to incorporate a backward design process to redesign a lesson (class) for your course that can then serve as a template for a more thorough course redesign. We will provide examples of several "active learning" instructional methods and assessments and work with participants to strategize how they can readily be adapted into a variety of post secondary science courses. We will outline a series of consistent steps for (re)designing lessons to incorporate different degrees of active learning suitable for each instructors' situational factors (e.g., class size, instructional experience, course content, student background). Participants will leave with new strategies incorporated into an existing lesson and knowledge of which active learning practices best match with their course learning goals.

Examples of a variety of active learning strategies are discussed in the McConnell et al. (2017) Journal of Geoscience Education article, Instructional Utility and Learning Efficacy of Common Active Learning Strategies (Acrobat (PDF) 794kB Jul19 19) (including supplemental materials (Acrobat (PDF) 662kB Jul19 19)). You can learn more about how geoscience instructors have incorporated different degrees of active learning into their courses in the Teasdale et al. (2017) Geosphere article A multidimensional assessment of reformed teaching practice in geoscience classrooms (Acrobat (PDF) 951kB Jul19 19).

Workshop Program »


The target audience for this workshop is any instructor seeking to design or redesign lessons for a science course. We will provide examples of active learning in introductory and more advanced courses and those for large and small enrollment and from different types of institutions. We have designed this workshop experience to engage instructors with no previous experience with active learning and for instructors who use active learning and are looking for more ideas to revise lessons in their courses. We encourage all participants to bring course materials to redesign as part of the workshop.


By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the principal characteristics of active learning
  • Discuss how active learning practices were incorporated into courses at two different institutions
  • Become familiar with exemplary teaching and learning resources as models for course materials
  • Create student learning objectives, related teaching activities and aligned assessments that use one or more of active learning strategies
  • Create an action plan for redesigning course materials to involve more active learning


Day 1: Characterizing the use of active learning practices in introductory and majors courses, with evidence for effectiveness and utility of common active learning strategies, considering constraints on strategy use, introduction to the backward design process and sourcing examples of potential activities. Participants will start work on lessons for their own courses.

Day 2: Redesigning a lesson (lecture) with increased use of active learning exercises and assessment, development of personal action plans for course reform through progressive adoption of active learning strategies.

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