Interactive Engagement

Image for IE classroom

Interactive Engagement (IE) is achieved by questioning students or challenging them to think or to do something that requires thought. Students interact with each other, with the instructor as a coach or guide, or with guided materials created by the instructor (on paper or computer). A key ingredient is frequent and thoughtful interaction. Most of the quantitative research in science education regarding the effectiveness of IE in a learning environment comes from the physics community so these results are highlighted here. The references presented were carefully selected to be of generic interest to science teaching and hence are also quite relevant and useful as guidelines for teaching geoscience.

Image for traditional classroom
Hake (2002 (more info) and 1998) defines:
(a) "Interactive Engagement" (IE) methods as those designed at least in part to promote conceptual understanding through interactive engagement of students in heads-on (always) and hands-on (usually)activities which yield immediate feedback through discussion with peers and/or instructors....

(b) "Traditional" (T) courses as those reported by instructors to make little or no use of IE methods,relying primarily on passive-student lectures, recipe labs, and algorithmic-problem exams.

This figure from Hake's paper graphically compares student performance in IE versus traditional courses and shows significantly larger learning gains for IE type courses relative to traditional courses. (Click thumbnail for larger view.)

New Models of Physics Instruction Based on Physics Education Research: Part 2 (more info) (1996) contrasts IE classroom with traditional classrooms and gives several examples of Interactive Engagement (IE) techniques used in Physics courses. Modeling Methodology for Physics Teachers ( This site may be offline. ) (1997) discusses the benefits of using model construction and development in an IE learning framework. Christian and Belloni (2001) describe the use of IE Web based models, simulations, and animations; Novak et al. (1999) describe the use of Just in Time teaching techniques for IE; and Mazur (1997)describes the concept of IE and Peer Instruction. Some examples of IE techniques use in physics education with relevance to geoscience educators include:

  • Peer Instruction/Concept Tests (Eric Mazur, Harvard University)
  • Interactive Demos (R. Thornton, Tufts; D. Sokoloff, U. of Oregon)
  • Cooperative Problem Solving (Ken and Pat Heller, University of Minnesota)
  • IE Modeling activities (Hestenes, Arizona State);
  • IE Models, simulations, and animations (Christian and Belloni, Davidson College);
  • Interactive Lectures and Just in Time Teaching, (G. Novak, Purdue; E Patterson, AF Academy; Andrew Gavin,Purdue; and Wolfgang Christian, Davidson College);

These teaching techniques were selected as examples since they directly apply to geosciences as well. Hake (2002) (more info) also discusses ideas related to the transferability of IE to other disciplines and some precautions one must take in order to implemnt IE successfully.

Redish (2003) also emphasizes classroom structure and the importance of a student-centered approach to the successful implementation of IE learning. Students working in small groups with the instructor moving throughout the classroom is much more amenable to IE than a traditional lecture setting. Although it is possible with individual response systems and peer instruction techniques to create a quality IE environment for larger classes.

Although the above discussion is brief it is hoped that it gives a flavor for IE and references to begin further exploration.


  • Physlets : teaching physics with interactive curricular material. Christian and Belloni, 2001 This manual/CD package shows physics instructors how to author their own interactive curricular material using Physlets - Java applets written for physics pedagogy that can be embedded directly into html documents and that can interact with the user. (citation and description)
  • Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. Hake, 1998 The complete report from Richard Hake's long-term study of interactive engagement (IE) techniques and their effect on the understanding of physics by non-physics majors. (citation and description)
  • Lessons from the Physics Education Reform Effort. Hake, 2002 This article provides a summary of a survey of pretest and posttest data for 62 introductory physics courses attended by a total of 6542 students conducted by the author (Hake, 1998) and offers 14 lessons from the physics education reform effort that may assist in the general upgrading of education and science literacy. (citation and description)
  • Modeling Methodology for Physics Teachers. Hestenes, 1997 Scientific practice involves the construction, validation and application of scientific models, so science instruction should be designed to engage students in making and using models. This pdf article discusses the benefits of using model construction and development in an Interactive Engagement learning framework. The methodologies and ideas discussed in this article have been incorporated in physics and teacher training courses. The article can be found in E. Redish & J. Rigden (Eds.) The changing role of the physics department in modern universities, American Institute of Physics Part II. p. 935-957. (citation and description)
  • Peer Instruction: A User's Manual. Mazur, 1997 This is a user's guide to a powerful combination of interactive lecture techniques: ConcepTests and Peer Instruction. (citation and description)
  • Just-in-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. Novak et al., 1999 The authors explain what Just-in-Time Teaching is, its underlying goals and philosophies, and how to implement it. They also provide an extensive section of tested resource materials that can be used in introductory physics courses with the JiTT approach. (citation and description)
  • New Models of Physics Instruction Based on Physics Education Research: Part 2. Redish, 1996 This online article is the second part in a two part discussion of several models of instruction developed for physics courses. The article outlines full studio models, discovery labs, lecture based models, and recitation based models. (citation and description)
  • Teaching Physics with Physics Suite. Redish, 2003 This book aims to help educators learn to be more effective at teaching physics. It describes a variety of tools for improving both teaching and learning. (citation and description)