At FRCC, our faculty and instructors offer rigorous, challenging coursework. But how they deliver and share course content also matters.
The college aims to get students engaged in active, collaborative learning—this is how we strive to teach in all areas. One important step toward this goal has been developing an Active Learning Institute for our teachers.
It Started with a Great Class
Our journey toward developing this institute started a few years ago with a successful online class. Students in our online learning community were engaged and invested in their learning. They were producing essays that showcased a sophisticated understanding of philosophical concepts along with great writing. They were the best class ever!
At first, we just thought we had gotten lucky with a group of excellent students. But after a few semesters of similar classes, we figured out it wasn’t just luck. We had designed, almost without realizing it, an active learning class that facilitated student learning and allowed them to excel.
What is Active Learning?
The active learning paradigm rejects the idea that the teacher’s role is to transmit knowledge to students. Instead, teachers become learning facilitators who create opportunities for students to do meaningful work both in and out of class. Our job is to give them ways to intentionally practice important skills and make meaningful connections with the course content.
In this active learning paradigm, teachers are encouraged to measure their own success based on how deeply students learn in the class itself and, more importantly, what they take with them into the next semester and the rest of their lives.
What Difference Does Active Learning Make?
Students in these active learning classes get the chance to do the hard work of learning and mastering important skills and outcomes. Students who become true learners come to realize that their learning is largely their own responsibility, and they can take their understanding of how learning works with them into all their other classes and their wider lives.
Students benefit immensely from this work. Too often, students cram information into their short-term memory only to pass a high-stakes assessment, and then forget the content shortly thereafter. Through active learning techniques, we’re helping students build rich neural networks of information that they can then use in various situations. Teachers who have shifted to an active learning pedagogy report more success, more engagement, and more general excitement for learning in their students.
Teaching the Teachers
FRCC’s Active Learning Institute offers faculty and instructors a chance to work hard with a cohort of like-minded colleagues—in order to redesign their classes around evidence-based instructional strategies. Participants in the institute meet for nine two-hour sessions over the course of one semester.
All nine sessions are learner-centered and intentionally modeled around active learning strategies—giving participants the chance to experience active learning as students in the institute.
The faculty and instructors who participate also get to study some of the research on how our brains actually learn—referred to as “The Science of Learning.” Throughout the institute, teachers practice applying this science of learning to their target course design. In doing so, they figure out how to:
- Prioritize learning outcomes for their students;
- Make the course content relevant to students; and
- Provide students with sufficient, guided practice for the desired outcomes.
Putting Active Learning to Work in Class
After the semester-long institute is done, participants must redesign one target course around active learning principles, and they must teach that course the following semester. Graduates of the Active Learning Institute become intentional designers of their students’ learning experiences, creating opportunities for student to learn in harmony with how our brains actually function.
A fifth group of FRCC teachers has just completed the college’s Active Learning Institute—bringing the total number of people trained in active learning to 56 across FRCC’s three campuses.
The college will be running its Active Learning Institute again in the fall. FRCC instructors and faculty who are interested in learning more about the Active Learning Institute—or about active learning in general— can reach out to Kerri.firstname.lastname@example.org or Eric.email@example.com.
This post was written jointly by Kerri Mitchell and Eric Salahub (both Rhetoric, Languages and Philosophy Faculty at FRCC’s Larimer Campus ● Active Learning Institute)