Active learning strategies require us to discuss, analyze, and apply information in action – and, of course, in the classroom. Our approach to each can be so heavily influenced by our experiences of the world and perceptions of it that they’re as diverse as we are, even when we arrive at the same conclusion. We’ve known for several years now that active learning can be a powerful component of inclusive teaching because it provides students with a greater variety of engagement opportunities, often allowing us to reach underrepresented groups. Yet, we haven’t talked much about how diversity influences the ways in which students work through active learning activities and how we can support every student in active learning.
Are you using active learning strategies in the classroom, and if so, how do you support a diversity of perspectives and problem-solving approaches in your activities? Do you find this comes naturally for your students or do you like to do any table-setting with your students before they begin an activity?
I just want to ask you If students engage in multiple types of learning experiences on any given day or class period. Eg., project-based learning with a peer group, virtual learning via adaptive software, independent work (e.g., independent reading or writing), etc. Learning experiences are authentic (real-world) and relevant to students’ interests and aspirations.
This is an interesting- and important issue. It's one thing to design effectively for active/problem-based learning and another to make sure the learning activities don't replicate and reinforce social hierarchy structures that harm and silence some students.
In my upper-division class on Poverty, Discrimination and Immigration (no shortage of divisive topics there!) I have moved Team-Based Learning, which is a form of peer learning that includes permanent teams that engage in team quizzes and applications together in class. This can support community and strengthen voices since the students share opinions and work on problems in a smaller group before sharing in front of the large class. A potential concern for my university is that our student body is very divided and I do worry that the teams I assign may have potentially toxic mixtures if the most extreme students are paired together. I randomly assign students, but try to make sure that women are never orphaned alone in any group.
On the technology side, I have been a fan of iClicker as a way to democratize all of my classrooms by creating a low-cost way for student voices to be heard even if they would never speak up in class. Of course this works best when I ask good/high-quality questions!
I have found the best approach to be to include everyone, but don't force it so as to allow different students with different approaches to flourish. Here is an example: in my chemical engineering courses, we do a lot (and I mean A LOT) of problem solving (e.g. calculate the heat transferred in a heat exchanger, determine the mass flow rate through a distillation column, etc). I always start every problem by giving students a couple of minutes of their own to think through the problem and get it started. Then I take over and show the class the set up to make sure everyone is on the same page. Now here is where the diversity in problem solving approaches comes in: at this point, I invite all students to continue working on the problem for a few minutes, but they can choose if they want to work alone or with their neighbors. While I encourage them to work together, not all students feel comfortable working with someone else, some might want to challenge themselves on their own, some might be having a tough day and don't feel like talking, etc. No matter the reason, students have the option to choose how they want to continue practicing applying their knowledge, and that is the key, that they continue to practice developing their skills, not the method for how they are doing so. By recognizing that not all students want to do group active learning all of the time and allowing them to choose how to proceed I hope that I am creating a comfortable classroom environment where students with different approaches can succeed.