Module Six: Active Learning Methods
Finding Our Way in the Cassroom
The only way to learn is “active learning.”  Many books and much research has been devoted to this subject.  Dr. Shreerekha Subramanian will share some personal insights that arise out of a lifetime of learning, and teaching, and now, scholarship arising out of the intersections of teaching and learning.  Both the teacher and the student are embodied.  Sustained learning often happens at the heels of palpable involvement where the student often recounts feeling that the ‘book came alive’.  For teachers, “active learning” is the perennial search for these golden moments when the teacher kindles in the student a fire and the room is electric with the word. Once in a classroom, even before introductions on the first day, Dr. Subramanian offered the students a paper map of our building and then took them on a walk through it as a group.  The students meandered through the building and we returned to our desks after a few minutes energized on a number of levels. First, it was good just to move.  Second, it broke the monotony and the unexpected had happened.  On the first day, instead of being glued to our seats for what feels like an interminable period to the students, we walked around without aim and purpose.
Active Learning Methods: Video Text Version
Being Awake
Students recounted the following:
  • Nervousness, anxiety, discomfort
  • Excitement and inspiration
  • Connection with humanity
  • Questions on how the map does not identify key places that are necessary such as restrooms, areas to sit, friendly corners of our building

Upon returning, they also said they had new critical lens with which to read a map, the space of their daily existence, the mode of their being, and the ways in which they relate to one another.  One short walk seemed to have spurred a host of critical awakenings in my students.  Upon resuming discussion, my students were more alert and full of questions, a perfect moment to start learning.

Collaborative Learning
  • Students generate their own arguments or central thesis out of extended study of the knowledge offered in the course.  As they begin the long writing process, they find others in the course who are writing along similar lines in terms of method, content, theme, or general category. 
  • Students choose to form their own groups as a way to engage with one another’s work and provide critical feedback in the research and writing process.
  • As a group, the students find their own group identity, give a title to their collaboration and write a summary that describes their group research. 

Two of many possibilities at a local student research conference:

  1. Students apply to present their own papers but apply as a group
  2. Students apply to discuss the common thread of their research in a roundtable format where they engage in a slightly choreographed conversation to share, explain, and teach their newly-produced knowledge 
Problem-Based Learning
Neil A. Glasgow, New Curriculum for New Times: A Guide to Student-Centered, Problem-Based Learning (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1997)

Abstract: This is a step-by-step guide to designing problem-based learning across the curriculum. Contents show teachers how to develop student-centered, problem-based curriculum, manage student projects across a range of subjects and disciplines, assess projects using portfolios, and involve community members as project mentors. Numerous examples are provided of activities in various disciplines and at different learning levels with ideas to engage students. The concepts and suggestions offered are designed to expand the teacher's classroom toolbox, and practical examples are given of a variety of curricular models, ranging from traditional to less mainstream alternatives, to guide the creation, implementation, management, and assessment of curricular practice and student work. The needs for curricular accountability and classroom evaluation research by teachers are also discussed and the concerns of educators, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders are addressed.

Case Methods
Case studies, launched and made famous by Freud in his study of Dora (1905) and Little Hans (1909), has been the centerpiece of psychological research and spread outward into other disciplines henceforth. Scholars in disciplines across the humanities and social sciences have studied the individual to understand the collective consciousness.

With appropriate permissions, students can study an individual or the example offered in narrative of a public figure and perform analysis to arrive at claims in sociology, psychology, or literature.

Course Projects

Engage students by allowing for a course project that they are invested in and feel personally committed to -

  • To wrestle with theory considered recondite by students, I asked my graduate seminar to pick their greatest challenges and 'perform' their work in an end-of-semester theatrical conclusion
  • Students produced not only the most sophisticated analysis of the heretofore difficult theories, they also embodied the scholars, such as Judith Butler shown here, by performing their work on a public stage open to the university audience

In teaching subaltern studies theory that emerges from South Asia in 1970s, I have often employed simulations in the classroom.  I distribute written autobiographical narratives that are seeming voices of subalternity.  Then, after reading Spivak’s 1982 position that questions if the subaltern can speak, the students engage in conversation with one another and on stage and wonder if speech is possible, effective, and to what extent, they can interrogate the scholar herself.  The simulation is performative and memorable as a learning experience.

Key strategies often utilized in situated learning environments include the following:
  • stories,
  • reflection,
  • anchored instruction,
  • cognitive apprenticeship,
  • modeling,
  • collaboration,
  • coaching, scaffolding and judging,
  • multiple practice,
  • exploration and
  • articulation

(McLellan, 1986; Brown, et. al. 1989; Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Land & Hannafin, 2000).

Technology Uses
  • Proliferation of technology and new online habits mean that technology can be interwoven in innumerable ways into effective assignments
  • Online classroom can in some ways, mimic and reproduce some of the spatiality of being in real time/real space together through new technology that simulates the classroom
  • Students, in turn, can be offered multiple modes of completing the assignment – for example, along with the standard paper, students can generate PowerPoints with audio in which they skillfully analyze new media, technology and the digitization of our lives
  • The traditional library aisles are available to the students at their fingertips. Entire libraries are now digitized with immense databases that share great amounts of most recent research with the student.
Creative Assignments
  • Students can enhance and deepen their learning experience by group work in which as a team, they produce work on the internet that is permanent and serves as a resource for other students. They can create a repository of knowledge on one particular facet of theory or citation style or research method that becomes a much frequented online space for the learning community at large
  • Students can demonstrate their learning, comprehension and ownership of their new-found knowledge through presentations, performances, painting, and digital representations to mix and vary the product
  • Students can work towards generating an in-house or external publication as they complete their written and/or creative work. Also, a poetry seminar can conclude with students attending and presenting at a spoken word slam in the nearest city
Effective Assignments Help Students
  • Return to course materials
  • Glean a wealth of information
  • Critically evaluate the material
  • Read it through questions posed
  • Synthesize it with some amount of self-reflection
  • Relate research to course material
  • Produce knowledge and present it in one's own words
Active Learning Methods
 Active Learning Methods (PDF version)
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