International forum on Active Learning Classrooms (pre-conference, day 3)

During the pre-conference for International Forum on Active Learning Classrooms today I spent a lot of time thinking about how to not overwhelm your students. Lectures can be overwhelming because of information overload: a lot of material is presented in a short time span. A session in an active learning classroom can also be overwhelming because of the noise and not getting enough time to think for yourself.

I have a very strong preference for getting to think alone in a quiet space before being tossed into a group situation. I would much rather have something to present, and feel like I’ve covered all the bases I can come up with, before contributing to a group session.

Techniques like team-based learning take this into account. You read the material at home and then start class by taking a quiz individually. Then the group takes the same quiz again to come to a consensus about their answers. Where it might break down is the next stage when the group gets an activity to work on together. If you were to toss me directly into that activity in a group, I would struggle to contribute because I didn’t have time to prepare on my own.

My suggestions for helping our students in this regard are:

  • Always make sure to provide time in class to work individually before working in groups.
  • And/or
  • Provide the assignments ahead of class so that students can work on them at home.
  • On a related note: After asking the class a question, wait at least 3-5 seconds before you start calling on students to answer.

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