GRAD 5114: Active learning Strategies

Case-based and problem-based learning are instructional approaches that encourage active learning and promote for a mindful teaching experience to be used in higher education. The motivation behind both methods is to challenge students with open-ended problems or real-life cases  to promote critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. By being exposed to new scenarios, student work in small groups to implement a solution by applying their knowledge to new situations in a team effort. In these pedagogical approaches, teachers often play the role of the facilitator directing the learning process and guiding students rather than providing them with direct knowledge.

Proponents have often stood by this method of teaching due to its positive impact on students’ abilities and motivation to learn. John Foran, one of pro active learning professors, describe in his article at the NEA higher education journal  his journey to achieve this. He describes one of the greatest challenges in classroom “is to make the material come alive for students by making it comprehensible to them and relevant to their lives”. After trying different approaches to overcome the lack of interaction in his classrooms, he implemented the case-based approach. Foran describes the case-based flow he uses in his classrooms by a series of steps that involve: 1) Setting the scene by a series of factual questions; 2) lively role play, where students  “inhabit” the case and debate the case settings, and 3) the analytic section where major assessment of the discussion is highlighted.

An article about problem-bases learning by Stanford University in 2001, found here, describes the need for learning to be “student-centered”, where students lead the class discussion and assess their own work and others. The goal is allow students to become “effective problem-solvers”. To do this however, students must be conscious about what they previously know about the problem, and what more knowledge they need to be able to develop strategies to solve the problem. The challenge comes in teaching students how to do that, and this is the role of the instructor, which becomes a “tutor or “cognitive coach” who models inquiry strategies, guides exploration, and helps students clarify and pursue their research questions”.

Despite all of that, active learning have drawn some criticism, mainly related to the important role the instructor has to do in accounting for the knowledge students must previously know. It is not an easy job for the teacher to play, and it does require a lot of planning outside classroom and a lot of awareness within the classroom. It makes us question how much is it worth it to teach students how to find the solution rather than just giving them the solution?



2 thoughts on “GRAD 5114: Active learning Strategies”

  1. Your last question of finding the solution versus being given the solution is an interesting one. I see the benefits of PBL but I am also sympathetic to the downsides. I think there is a happy medium to be found somewhere in between where students are interactive, more engaged, and taking ownership of their learning. However, while I don’t think that it is up to the educator to give students the solution I do think it is up to them to give students the tools to get to the solution. This way students can still take on some of the characteristics of PBL in a potentially more approachable way from both a teaching and a learning perspective.

    1. Hi Reem, I also wanted to respond to that last question you pose in your post this week like Emma did. I question what we are really teaching if we aren’t trying to teach our students how to think for themselves to find a solution. I have this quote on the wall of my office that I like to read, it goes like this “We cannot promise to teach them everything, but we can promise to help advance their abilities to learn anything.” – Robert Scott, University World News, 26 Jan 2018 (I picked this up from an article I read.)

      Anyway, I like this quote and I like PBL because I think it is an opportunity to put the “advance their abilities to learn anything” part to the test. So you wrote about how preparing good PBL is time consuming and involved, and probably a little overwhelming if an instructor doesn’t have much experience with it and wants to use it for the first time. I’m gonna plug Kai’s post again because I think it applies here, too. He has a nice quote he shared about starting small and moving forward–which is a way to think about getting into PBL. He shared some nice, scalable strategies for PBL development that I think are really on point.
      Kai’s Let’s Pump the Brakes before Diving Straight into Popular Pedagogies post

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