Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Active learning has been defined as activities that students can utilize to better construct knowledge and understanding. UNC Charlotte’s Active Learning Academy in the Center for Teaching and Learning supports faculty members to develop such techniques for their classes, and recently, the center hosted an expo that featured academy faculty teams that shared their projects designed to promote active learning.

Nicole Spoor with the J. Murrey Atkins Library noted, “There are many active learning strategies that are easily implemented in small classes where furniture is easily moved. But, what if you teach a course with more than 100 students?”

She and Team Perfect Square shared ideas that could be adapted to any class size or setting. Team members were Tonya Bates, senior lecturer, Biological Sciences ; Bill Garcia, senior lecturer, Geography and Earth Sciences ; Nadia Najar, lecturer, Computer Science ; Scott Rockwell, assistant professor, Engineering Technology and Construction Management ; and Monika Sawhney, associate professor, Public Health Sciences.

Team Perfect Sqaure member discusses the project at expo“Our project, ‘Awkward Active Learning: Ideas for Adapting Active Learning When Things Get Awkward,’ came about from our discussions during the past year,” said Spoor. “Many of us teach in spaces that are not very adaptable to many traditional active learning strategies, but we found ways to make it work.”

At the expo, Team Perfect Square outlined several active learning strategies that members already employed and offered a number of prospective ideas that they planned to use.

Team Justin’s project, “A Year of Learning Actively,” focused on using smart devices and QR codes to promote active learning. Justin Cary, lecturer, University Writing Program; Tuan Cao, lecturer, Biological Sciences; Ann Dils, professor of Dance; Rodward Hewlin, assistant professor, Engineering Technology and Construction Management; Mandy McCaslan, College of Health and Human Services; Elisabeth Paquette, assistant professor of Philosophy; Mohamed Shehab, associate professor, Software and Information Systems; and Brandy Stamper, lecturer, Communication Studies; comprised the team.

Because several members use QR codes in their classes, Team Justin decided to use such codes as part of its expo presentation. The team also incorporated video presentations and created materials in online visual studios, such as Canvas.

“Attendees could scan the QR codes on our poster presentation to learn about our projects, which ranged from an app to help students write letters to politicians to having students in larger class settings use ‘Think, Pair and Share’ activities to collaborate,” said Cary.

He added that he had a number of conversations with faculty members who attended the expo and benefited from how colleagues in other departments are using active learning strategies.

“It really feels like active learning is taking a strong hold on campus,” Cary stated. “For students, our project really demonstrated how engaging a classroom experience can be. It really gets people moving, sharing and collaborating in new ways.”

Another group, Team Camina, created a set of active reflection activities to commemorate Camina Davis, a member who passed away in January after a long illness.

Team Camina at Active Learning Expo“We had three different reflection activities meant to provoke faculty into thinking about what teaching does for them,” said project facilitator Celine Latulipe, professor of Software and Information Systems. “Our first activity was a simple Reflection Wall, and we invited participants to write down on large Post-it notes how teaching enhanced their own well-being. The second activity was a burn box for participants to record their troubles. Participants crumpled up their troubles, threw them in a metal box and at the end of the event, we burned them. The third activity was a Story Corps video booth. Here, with help from AISLE, we encouraged participants to record what teaching means to them. We also invited anyone who knew Camina personally to record tributes to her to send to Camina's family.”

Other Team Camina members were Robert Boyer, assistant professor, Geography and Earth Sciences; Mary Muesing, lecturer, University Writing Program; Florence Okoro, assistant professor, Nursing ; Donna Sacco, clinical assistant professor, Special Education and Child Development ; Jun Song, assistant professor, Mathematics and Statistics ; and Erika Weber, lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Latulipe noted, “Much research has shown the benefits of reflection to aid in cognitive and emotional development. We often encourage our students to reflect on their learning processes, and we often reflect on how our teaching methods affects the students, but how often do we reflect on how our teaching impacts our own emotional well-being? Teaching can be an act of self-care, and we wanted to give faculty a chance to appreciate that.”  

Heather McCullough, associate director for instructional programs, Center for Teaching and Learning, stated, “The Active Learning Expo provided a vibrant forum for Active Learning Academy members to share best practices and valuable practical information around a wide range of disciplines and class sizes. The quality of the presentations at the expo was impressive and a testament to our faculty members’ dedication to their teaching and to their students’ success.”