Active Learning Engages, even Emboldens, Students

Female professor lecturing in classroom pointing a white board

If I was to take away one thing from my conversation with Dr. Chrissy Spencer about active learning, it would be how she is able to quickly identify areas in the course material students misunderstand or misperceive, and use class time to engage them to correct it and help them deeply learn biological concepts. During our interview, Dr. Spencer mainly talked about her Introductory to Biology course that she teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology to explain active learning and the tools she uses to make it work in her classroom. I loved her explanation about the research behind the effectiveness of active learning.

She said, “There is a lot of nice evidence that active learning actually helps students learn material better. For the most elegant depiction of that is a study conducted by Souse in 2006 and it shows how well you recall information that is delivered in different delivery mechanisms after a 24-hour period. If someone lectures at you and you passively listen to that information, most people 24 hours later will recall about two percent. If you read it, then most of us would recall four percent. These are really low numbers.

“Active learning gets us out of these passive formats and brings us to recall that is more like 25 or 30 percent. That happens when students practice by doing and this could be in the format of a problem worked on at home or in class. Recall on that kind of work is 27 percent. If they teach someone else to do it while they are doing it, then the recall is 31 percent. So I want my students to engage with the harder ideas with me and each other during class time, and do the more passive learning things such as reading or watching a lecture video outside of class.”

In the podcast, Dr. Spencer and I continue to talk about active learning and how educational technology tools like Learning Catalytics help her receive immediate feedback from her students so she can keep them actively learning and understanding course concepts correctly.



One piece of advice Dr. Spencer shared that is not in the podcast is, “When I was first introduced to these ideas, I saw that there was value there. But I couldn’t figure out how to implement the general concept of active learning, or the general concept of think, pair, share, in my own specific classroom. Having another professor in a different discipline was really helpful to get me started. If you want to try this, find some colleagues who are willing to try it at the same time. Or talk to faculty at other programs who are doing this to help you. Avoid feeling like you are in a vacuum when you are trying to do this type of thing.”

If you want to learn more about active learning using Learning Catalytics in Mastering, watch the recorded webinar presented by Dr. Spencer.