Have you heard instructors at University of Toronto discussing the idea of active learning in their classrooms? While difficult to define, this approach is generally understood as engagement of students in clarifying, questioning, applying, and consolidating new knowledge. It has been compared to a lamp being lit rather than a vessel being filled. Over the past year, a group of faculty leaders from across the university participated in development of active learning using digital strategies as part of the provincially funded Active Learning: Online Redesign (ALOR) project.
This network of remarkable instructors set their sights on the goal of enhancing the quality of student learning through design of active learning experiences using web-based resources and tools.
The project, spanning five divisions as well as the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) and the Online Learning Strategies (OLS) portfolio, has lead to introduction of innovative strategies to support both classroom and online learning.
ALOR project faculty leaders focused their efforts on elements of curriculum design that would be of interest to other instructors in their academic program area. Steve Joordens (UTSC – Psychology Department) continued enhancing Digital Labcoat, an online environment that challenges students to test their own hypothesis, theorize about findings, and use statistics to answer theoretical questions. In Human Biology (FAS), Franco Taverna mapped neuroscience concepts learners find most challenging and developed digital resources to address those difficult concepts, primarily for use in webinar environments. With a focus on reuse, Scott Ramsay (Materials Science, FASE) evaluated learning objects such as innovative tabletop lab videos and a range of screencast formats in terms of impact on student experience.
Other divisions designed specific curriculum components for active learning through the incorporation of wiki tools and the promotion of online debates. Student response was very positive. As one UTM student noted:
“I loved the experience because I was able to share my ideas with my classmates… we could all learn from one another.”
An important benefit of this extended network of colleagues is the opportunity for collaboration on project activities beyond course boundaries. Each of these faculty leaders has worked with instructors and educational technology professionals across their academic program areas regarding the design, development and integration of active learning strategies and digital resources. Prof. Steve Joordens observed that “Educational research has highlighted many great educational approaches (e.g., assessment for learning, peer assessment, active learning) …if we use technology creatively, we can find ways of providing these experiences in any course.” The result is enhanced learning opportunities for our students – both inside the classroom, and online!
Full reports by division can be found on the ALOR project overview website. Instructors interested in learning more about active learning in online environments may consider joining UOfT’s Online Teaching & Learning Community of Practice.