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Engaging Students

Good Practice Uses Active Learning Techniques

"Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves." (Chickering & Gamson, 1987)

ACTIVE LEARNING is defined as any strategy "that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing". (*Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University, p. 2)

ACTIVE LEARNING includes a range of teaching and learning activities. These strategies, supported by decades of classroom research, may be thought of as a continuum from low risk to high risk for both teachers and students. Such a continuum may include (but not be limited to) strategies such as some of the following:

  • involving students in well structured question and answer sessions in lecture classes
  • individual think and write exercises, such as the pause technique or one minute papers
  • pairing activities such as "think, pair, share"
  • interactive seminars
  • case studies

More complex and higher risk processes might include such activities as:

  • individual and group project based assignments;
  • student involvement in research,
  • internships,
  • practicum experiences,
  • student teaching,
  • clinical preceptor structures

Highest risk processes may include such carefully structured small group based strategies as some of these more familiar ones:

  • collaborative learning
  • cooperative learning
  • team learning
  • problem-based learning

As you can see, there are many names for strategies that apply what we know from the research. Summaries of classroom research have revealed a number of best practices that encourage active student participation in the learning process. For example, collaborative learning encompasses a variety of approaches to education, that may also be referred to as cooperative learning or small group learning. What is more important than the names are that these strategies create an environment that engage students who might not otherwise be engaged in their own learning in meaningful ways. Collaborative learning, then, is one among a wide variety of teaching strategies that each contribute to the total picture of making learning a deeper, more engaging, meaningful, active and effective process.


Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education
Brief summary of the seven principles as compiled by the American Association of Higher Education, the Education Commission of States, and The Johnson Foundation. See also Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1991), Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. For additional information see the article in the TA Handbook.

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), conducted by the Indiana University Center for Post-secondary
Research and Planning. The purpose of the survey is to provide reliable and credible information about the "quality" of the undergraduate experience. During the 2001 Spring Semester, the University of Delaware participated in the survey.
Survey results for UD students


Critical Thinking

Helping your students develop critical thinking skills, Lynch & Wolcott, October 2001, IDEA Paper #37. (pdf)

Critical Thinking Community - The site links directly to the Center for Critical Thinking and to The Institute for Teaching and Learning at San Jose State University.

Critical Thinking
WolcottLynch Associates offers a web site that specializes in the development of critical thinking. It also has a special site for educators with handouts and recommended resources. It also features a free web-based tutorial on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Bloom's Taxonomy
This well-known classification of learning objectives attempts to classify forms of learning.

Cooperative Learning

Highest risk processes may include such carefully structured small group based strategies as some of these more familiar ones:

  • collaborative learning
  • cooperative learning
  • team learning
  • problem-based learning

As you can see, there are many names for strategies that apply what we know from the research. Summaries of classroom research have revealed a number of best practices that encourage active student participation in the learning process. For example, collaborative learning encompasses a variety of approaches to education, that may also be referred to as cooperative learning or small group learning. What is more important than the names are that these strategies create an environment that engage students who might not otherwise be engaged in their own learning in meaningful ways. Collaborative learning, then, is one among a wide variety of teaching strategies that each contribute to the total picture of making learning a deeper, more engaging, meaningful, active and effective process.

Sites Pertinent to Cooperative Learning -- Compiled by Dr. Barbara J. Millis, Director of Faculty Development, University of Texas, San Antonio

Dr. Don Paulson, a chemist at California State at Los Angeles, has written a number of articles related to using active learning techniques in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology courses. His web site contains a number of rapid techniques useful in a variety of classes.

Maintained by David T. Johnson and Roger W. Johnson, long-time cooperative learning researchers and practitioners, the web site for the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota contains valuable background information on cooperative learning including three newsletters and some key articles such as “Cooperative Learning Methods: A Meta-Analysis,” which focuses on what can be proved to work.

Richard Felder's wonderful web site contains a wealth of articles, advice, and research to promote better teaching, particularly in the sciences.

Cooperative Learning Methods: A Meta-Analysis -- Authored by David W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, and Mary Beth Stanne, University of Minnesota, 60 Peik Hall, 159 Pillsbury Drive, S.E., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455

Cooperative learning is one of the most widespread and fruitful areas of theory, research, and practice in education. Reviews of the research, however, have focused either on the entire literature which includes research conducted in noneducational settings or have included only a partial set of studies that may or may not validly represent the whole literature. There has never been a comprehensive review of the research on the effectiveness in increasing achievement of the methods of cooperative learning used in schools. An extensive search found 164 studies investigating eight cooperative learning methods. The studies yielded 194 independent effect sizes representing academic achievement. All eight cooperative learning methods had a significant positive impact on student achievement.


Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method that is focused on students working cooperatively in groups to seek solutions to real world problems. Focuses upon how to transfer discussion into active learning.


Electronic Portfolios

This site focuses on student electronic portfolios. It includes excerpts and links featured in the Electronic portfoliosbook, links to the AAHE Portfolio Clearinghouse, and references to print and web-based portfolio resources. The site also maintains an Electronic Portfolio Forum to facilitate dialogue and discussion among individuals engaged in portfolio work.


Teaching Large Enrollment Classes


University of Delaware Active Learning Resources & Programs

On-Campus Resources:


Off-Campus Resources: