Digital Active Learning Strategies

Overview

Bonwell and Eison describe active learning strategies as “instructional activities involving students doing things and thinking about what they are doing.” According to Moore (1989), there are three types of interactions to focus on when designing active learning strategies: student to content, student to student, and student to instructor. Designing activities around these interactions will help ensure that your students are staying engaged with all aspects of your course.

Remember, the goal of active learning is not simply for your students to do things, but to also think about what they are doing. As you learn more about the following strategies, consider how effective each would be in promoting the learning you desire from your students.

Students engaged in laptop

Bloom’s Taxonomy &
Active Learning

One way to think about active learning strategies is within the model of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a framework for categorizing learning outcomes or skills into six different levels which increase in complexity. In the following diagram, each level of Bloom’s taxonomy has a respective question and associated active learning strategies (ALS). You can use this diagram as a guide to select an active learning strategy based on the level of learning you are expecting your students to achieve.

Bloom's Taxonomy
l

Remembering

Can learners recall or remember the content taught?

ALS: Updating Notes/Catch-up, Skeletal Notes/Fill in the Blanks

Understanding

Can learners explain ideas or concepts?

ALS: Check-in Questions, Mind Dump, One Minute Paper, Muddiest Point

Applying

Can learners use the topic in a new way?

ALS: Role Playing, Think/Write-Pair-Share

Analyzing

Can learners distinguish between different parts of the topic?

ALS: Key Takeaway Discussion, Role Playing, Think/Write-Pair-Share

Z

Evaluating

Can learners justify an argument or decision?

ALS: Key Takeaway Discussion, “You are the Professor,” Jigsaw, Problem Solving

Creating

Can learners create a new product or view?

ALS: “You are the Professor”, Jigsaw, Case Study, Role Playing

Digital Active Learning Strategies

The following is a list of digital active learning strategies organized by the three different types of learning interactions: student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor. Click the plus sign next to each activity name to learn more about the strategy and its implemetation.

Student-to-Content Interactions

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Skeletal Notes / Fill-in-the-blanks

What is it? 

This activity is one of the simple ways to engage students while they are participating in your lecture. Provide a set of incomplete lecture notes or PowerPoint slides with some of the parts missing for students to use while they are participating in the lecture. It is effective to choose the key words or key concepts to be blanked out for students to fill in. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Provide the lecture notes prior to live lecture so students can open it before joining
  • Display incomplete PowerPoint slides throughout the live lecture

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Provide the incomplete notes or slides for students to complete along with the video recordings or readings

Updating Notes / Catch-up

What is it? 

After a topic lecture is done, 2-3 mins to allow students to gather their notes and organize their thoughts before advancing on to the next content segment. This can be expanded to a short breakout room to share their notes with each other and ask any clarifying questions for a few minutes. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Pause after sections of the lecture to allow time for students to update their notes
  • Use breakout rooms to allow students to share notes and update each other

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Post shorter lecture videos or pause during recordings to allow students to make notes
  • Use group/class notebooks so students can share notes

Check-In Activities

What is it? 

Like iClicker questions, you can add check-in questions in between asynchronous videos using YuJa Quiz or provide check-in questions or discussion as a follow-up activity after the topic to help students check-in their understanding of the topic. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Polling in Zoom, Poll Everywhere activities or iClicker/Reef polling app. Access Polling @ UCI to learn more about the polling options

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

Student-to-Student Interactions

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Think/Write - Pair - Share (TPS)

What is it? 

TPS is a collaborative active learning strategy where students either solve or discuss an assigned topic(s). This helps students to think or write individually first and encourages them to share ideas with classmates. This activity maximizes participation, focuses attention and engages students in comprehending the topic. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Prompt and pause during live lecture for students to think or write
  • Use breakout rooms to allow small groups to share their thoughts

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Use discussion boards to provide a prompt for students to think and post.
  • Use the “students must post a reply before seeing others’ responses” option

Role-Play

What is it? 

Ask students to “act out” a position or argument in groups using Zoom breakout rooms or another collaborative space, to get a better idea of the concepts and theories being discussed. Role-playing exercises can range from the simple to the complex (e.g., skeptic, community member, scientist, historical figure, etc.). 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Use Zoom breakout rooms, smaller classes can role play in the main room

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Use the discussion board to post the prompt for the role play
  • Students can respond with a video recording or voice recording

Problem Solving / Case Study

What is it? 

This activity is similar to TPS however instead of a topic to discuss, you will give them a problem or case study to solve together first and debrief the answers as a class. It’s important to provide a challenging question (not an easy one!) and give them a proper time to come up with the solution(s). This can be used as a competition activity where a group that comes up with the best solution(s) or answer first will get some sort of reward (extra points, extra time for next test, etc.). 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Students can present their process using Zoom – allow them to share their screen

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Use the discussion boards to create a public space for students to share their process
  • Create weekly assignments around real-life scenarios – there are lots of resources for digital case studies and problem sets!

Jigsaw

What is it? 

Divide the class into small groups each of which is assigned a different task. Each group completes their task. Then, new groups are formed, each consisting of one member from each of the original groups (so all group members in the new group have completed a different task). Students then take turns presenting their work to the rest of the group. In this exercise each student is an “expert” in one task and exposed to all other tasks. This activity is to help students to develop effective ways to teach a topic to other classmates. Just as a jigsaw, each classmate’s part is important to complete and have a full understanding about the topic. To learn more about Jigsaw activity and 10 easy steps to implement it in your class

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Students work in groups in breakout rooms
  • Groups report back to the whole group as the “jigsaw” is pieced together

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Groups work together in group pages or collaborations
  • Groups share their final product in the class discussion board where the Jigsaw is pieced together.
  • Instructor summarizes the big picture through documentation or video overview

“You are the Professor” / Stump your classmates

What is it? 

After the lecture topic, pause and ask students/groups to come up with one or two questions based on what they just learned. Questions must be challenging (enough to stump their classmates). Each group will pose their questions to the class. Collect the questions (they might be used as possible exam questions or to check students’ comprehension). 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Students submit their questions during or at the end of live lecture via Google Doc or Canvas Assignment
  • Groups meet to discuss in breakout rooms and collect responses through Canvas Surveys, Quizzes or Assignment, or other UCI supported tools such as Gradescope, Ed Discussion or Google Doc

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Students participate in asynchronous lecture
  • Groups work together in discussion boards or group pages
  • Students/Groups submit responses through Canvas Surveys, Quizzes or Assignment, or other UCI supported tools such as Gradescope, Ed Discussion or Google Doc

Student-to-Instructor Interactions

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One Minute Reflection / Quick Write Reflection

What is it? 

After a topic has been presented, pause one minute for the student to reflect on what they’ve just learned. It will be helpful to give some guided questions that address learning outcomes of the topic(s) for students to reflect on. Although this strategy is called One minute reflection, it doesn’t have to be only one minute! This strategy is meant to be a quick pause to help students to process their learning. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Students are prompted to write reflection during or at the end of live lecture
  • Collect responses through Canvas assignment or quiz/survey

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Students are prompted to write reflection during or after asynchronous lecture
  • Collect responses through Canvas assignment or quiz/survey (possibly timed quiz)

Muddiest Point

What is it? 

This reflection strategy is to help students to express the confusing/unclear part of the topic(s). This strategy helps you better assess student learning and helps students reflect on their learning process. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Students are prompted to write response during or at the end of live lecture
  • Collect responses through Canvas Assignment or Quiz/Survey to share with instructor, or Canvas Discussion to share with class

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Students are prompted to write responses during or after asynchronous lecture
  • Collect responses through Canvas Assignment or Quiz/Survey to share with instructor, or Canvas Discussion to share with class

Mind Dump

What is it? 

This activity is to help students to recall their learning from the previous classes. It’s most effective to do this activity in the beginning of the class, before you start introducing a new topic. Take a few minutes for students to write down everything they remember from the previous module/week. This can be an individual, group or entire class activity where a Google doc can come in handy. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • Allow students a few minutes at the beginning where they “mind dump” in a digital space
  • This can be done privately (as a self-reflective exercise) or shared with the class or just the instructor through Google Docn

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Post a check-in or participation only quiz that prompts students to “mind dump” at the beginning of a unit
  • This can be done privately (as a self-reflective exercise) or shared with the class or just the instructor through Google Doc

Key Takeaway Discussion

What is it? 

Have students post one key takeaway from the topic that was learned today or module/week. This can include a highlight, ah-ha! moment, a challenge, a problem/solution, a relationship with other content, a pattern etc so that students can reflect on their learning, learn from and connect with their peers. After all students post, instructor close the forum and summarize the findings or revisit some topics to transition better to next topic/module/week. 

How is it done online?

Synchronous Learning IconSynchronous: 

  • At the end of the live lecture, prompt students to share their key takeaway through Canvas survey, Google forms, etc.
  • Collect responses through Canvas Assignment or Quiz/Survey to share with instructor, or Canvas Discussion to share with class

Asynchronous Learning IconAsynchronous:

  • Post this as a discussion board at the end of a module/unit
  • Collect responses through Canvas Assignment or Quiz/Survey to share with instructor, or Canvas Discussion to share with class
  • If using Canvas Discussion, make sure to check the option “Users must post before seeing replies”