Learning Activities

What is it?

Learning activities are at the core of good teaching. They provide students opportunities to learn by doing and practice what they are learning. Moreover, active learning is at the core of learning activities. Good remote teaching or online lecturing needs to be active to ensure that students are learning and are not passive recipients of information.

Why is it important?

Successful remote teaching and online teaching are based on student-centered, online course design. This type of design rests on these interactions:

  • Student-to-student interactions
  • Student-to-instructor interactions
  • Student-to-TA interactions
  • Student-to-community interactions
  • Student-to-content interactions
  • Student-to-technology interactions

These interactions promote students’ deep engagement with the knowledge, skills and disposition conveyed by the course content.

How to do it?

You can use active learning activities in remote teaching or online teaching in several of the same ways that you use active learning in your face-to-face class. Active learning can help students predict, discuss, summarize, synthesize, or reflect upon the content. The following continuum of online active learning strategies for live lectures presents a few activity types that you can explore and incorporate into your remote or online course design. These activities vary in the amount of remote or online teaching experience and overall work that may be required from the instructor to integrate the activities into course planning and teaching. Those that are at the “greater complexity of integration” end of the spectrum may take more time to integrate into your teaching, whereas those that fall near the “higher ease of integration” end may take very little time. Keep in mind that  we are experiencing a rapid shift to remote teaching, and if you are not experienced in remote instruction, you will need to spend some time learning the technology. As a result, you may want to wait until a subsequent quarter to integrate active learning activities into your live Zoom meetings, or focus on how you might integrate one or two active learning strategies from the list below. Strategies 1-4 from the list below may work best for those new to remote instruction. Bloom's Digital Taxonomy can also be a reference for ideas to integrate into remote settings.

Below we provide a list of some of these online active learning strategies as well as their definitions:

  1. Pause for Reflection: Throughout a mini-lecture video, synchronously Zoom presentation, LiveRoom in Canvas (up to 500), particularly after presenting an important point or key concept, allow students to think about the information or check their notes to identify points that may be unclear. You can include comprehension check questions, asking students if something needs additional clarification.

  2. Minute Paper: Ask students to spend a few minutes writing short responses to a question or questions meant to gauge their understanding of a class concept, and post their response. Students can share their comments live, by pasting their answers on the Zoom chat, or could post their comments afterwards, to a Discussion thread. This strategy can provide you with an opportunity to assess students’ understanding of content in a more holistic way than quizzes. You might also have students ask questions based on their minute papers during your live lecture or in a synchronous discussion/section meeting with TAs.

  3. Muddiest Point: Towards the end of a live class session, ask students to write a short note explaining which point from that day’s class is most unclear to them. Students could then post this comment to a FAQ Discussion Thread or share during a discussion session activity. This strategy helps you better assess student learning and helps students reflect on their learning process.

  4. Think/Write-Pair-Share: For this activity, pose a question and give students a few minutes to think about the question, write down a response, and share the response. Students then pair up and share their ideas. Pairing activities are possible on Zoom via break-out rooms that allow students to work in pairs or small groups during synchronous meetings. Students can also share via Zoom chat, email, or a Discussion Thread or Forum with other students and/or with the class at large.

  5. “You are the professor” question creation: Assign groups to create questions that help check for understanding of concepts. Groups could create these questions during part of your live class and/or quiz other groups as part of your live class. The Poll function in Zoom makes this possible. You could also select some questions from all the groups to incorporate in your quizzes or midterms.

  6. Role playing: Ask students to “act out” a position or argument in groups using Zoom breakout rooms or another collaborative space, to get a better idea of the concepts and theories being discussed. Role-playing exercises can range from the simple to the complex (e.g., skeptic, community member, scientist, historical figure, etc.).

  7. Jigsaw Discussion: Divide the class into small groups, using break-out rooms, each of which is assigned a different task. Each group completes their task. Then, new groups are formed, each comprised of one member from each of the original groups (so all group members in the new group have completed a different task). Students then take turns presenting their work to the rest of the group, synchronously or asynchronously. In this exercise each student is an “expert” in one task and exposed to all other tasks.

  8. Experiential Learning: Online content and a series of online learning activities are created to guide students, alone and in groups, to see/experiment, learn, compare, critique, share, and apply. You may want to introduce some of these activities during your live lectures and then have students report on their experiences, as they make progress over the quarter. Modified use of Google Earth can give students a sense of the location activities take place if linked to historical and current events. 

Further Reading