Implementing Active Learning

Active Learning (AL) is an instructional approach that engages students in the materials they are learning through, promoting critical thinking and collaboration between educators and learners. 

USF’s commitment to academic excellence includes the conversion of all qualified classrooms into active learning spaces in support of two University Strategic Initiatives:

  • Increasing technology solutions to enhance learning and improve service; and
  • Facilities to support outstanding educational programs.

This webpage provides resources on how to incorporate active learning into your teaching and information about existing active learning spaces at USF.

Venn diagram representing the interconnected relationship of pedagogy, [learning] space, and technology in the active learning ecosystem.

Active Learning in Your Classroom

Learn more about pedagogical techniques and activities you can implement in your classroom, adaptive learning spaces available at USF, and educational technologies supported at USF.

Introducing active learning in your classroom does not require a dramatic overhaul of your current course! Individual exercises allow for assessing student learning through short quizzes and writing assignment.

Group of students sitting at a table discussing a document on a laptop

Some pedagogical techniques encourage full-class participation, ranging from socratic seminars and class debates to jigsaw reading assignments. The resources below, curated by teaching institutes, offer strategies on promoting student collaboration and guided learning.

Suggested resources:

USF has a variety of classrooms with flexible furniture and enhanced technology to support active learning. The interactive table below highlights these spaces.

Access the Airtable in a new window

John Belcher (Professor of Physics, MIT) and fellow instructors at the university began the Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) Project to analyze student success in their courses. Since the project's conception in the late 1990s, the principal researchers have developed new first-year physics courses that combine traditional lecture-based teaching with flipped teaching techniques including interactive presentations and opportunities for students to collaborate.

the TEAL ProjecT AT MIt 

Bringing TEAL to USF

USF is committed to supporting TEAL through the opening of Gleeson 213, the university's first TEAL classroom. This space features (6) LCD TVs and a main AV system, each supporting connectivity via HDMI and AirPlay. The room also includes (40) Steelcase "Node" chairs for flexible rearrangement.

Read the story: Creating Gleeson 213

Group of students facing instructor and breakout television display in active learning classroom

The ITT supports learning technologies including Canvas, PollEverywhere, and iClickers to help students stay connected and engaged in class. Instructional Technologies at USF

Suggested resources:

USF provides access to Echo360, a powerful suite of student engagement tools and lecture capture software. Instructors can use the Echo360 Active Learning Platform (ALP) to provide immediate feedback to students and post course materials for later reference when studying for exams.

Once presentations and other multimedia files are included in a course, instructors can create "interactions" for assessing student engagement and performance. Students can simultaneously take notes synced to a recorded lecture, revisit concepts discussed in class, and hold discussions with classmates.

View this Echo360 recording in a new window

In supported classrooms, Echo360 can automatically record your multimedia presentations and capture audio/video through microphones and an instructor-facing video camera. Recordings are accessible via a web interface and the Echo360 mobile app and can be further integrated into your Canvas course. New for January 2019: Echo360 ALP automatically transcribes audio into transcripts and closed captioning, accommodating different learning styles.

In addition, USF students and faculty can upload their own recordings and take advantage of its active learning tools available in the Echo360 ALP using Personal Capture. This software can be installed on any macOS or PC computer. 

Echo360 ALP platform and lecture capture at USF

Instructional Design (ID) provides consultations on ways to incorporate active learning pedagogy into your teaching, including enhancing the use of technology in classrooms and promoting online/hybrid course design. Our instructional designers and multimedia developers hold workshops and 1:1 trainings for faculty at USF.

Examples of Instructional Design Collaborations with USF Faculty

Photo of a black camera recording a person sitting in front of bookshelves in a dimly lit room

Group of students pointing at a laptop in collaboration

Why Active Learning, and Why Now?

Explore research demonstrating the value and purpose of transforming your classroom to promote Active Learning.

Active learning pedagogies promote the retention and deeper understanding of material, as students are engaging with content rather than passively listening. Bligh (1998) found that among students who are actively engaged in class, far fewer experience a "drop off" in concentration; after just 10-15 minutes, a learner stops listening effectively. Freeman et al. (2014) further notes that students' exam scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections.

Suggested resources:

A 2018 EDUCAUSE publication describes Active Learning Classrooms as a vital innovation in contemporary learning, indicating spaces that promote student engagement and collaboration positively impact students' class performances. Although research remains in development, colleagues at North Carolina State University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington have launched pilots for expanding ALCs across their campuses. ALCs challenge instructors to incorporate technology and reframe knowledge acquisition as a two-way relationship with students.

Two graduation caps (black) attached to lightbulbs, acting as lamp covers

Suggested resources:

From the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education:

  • Underserved students benefit from technology interactions designed to promote high levels of interactivity and emphasize discovery rather than direct instruction
  • Underserved students benefit from learning activities that provide them with opportunities to drive their own learning
  • Underserved students benefit from learning activities that focus on the development of higher order thinking skills (e.g., problem solving, making inferences, analyzing, and synthesizing) and 21st century skills

From Zielezinski, M.B., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). "Promising practices: A literature review of technology use by underserved students."

Excerpts from the ACS WASC Postsecondary Manual for accreditation:

  • Institutional Mission and Schoolwide Learner Outcomes (SLOs): The school demonstrates the incorporation of current research-based ideas into learning programs to ensure that the school’s overarching goals (SLOs) are current and relevant (Indicator 1.5).
  • Curriculum: Online students use resources for learning beyond the limits of the textbook such as library/media resources and community resources (Indicator 4.7).
  • Instructional Programs: The school uses a variety of delivery modes and teaching methodologies that reflect the diverse needs and learning styles of its students (Indicator 5.2).
  • Technology-Enhanced Learning: The school is actively engaging in integrating new technology into the instructional program of the school (Indicator 5.3).
  • Community Connection: The school has outlets for students in community service or internship opportunities that are connected to student programs that will enhance their learning experiences in line with the school’s mission (Indicator 9.2).