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Andrew Knight-Messenger, Social Sciences 1SS3: Inquiry in the Social Sciences (approximately 30 students)

Most of the course (roughly 80%) was organized around active-learning activities, and Andrew employed a number of different types of activities.  One that was particularly fruitful was having students come prepared for class after having done a particular reading prior to class. Students were put in groups, and each group was asked to make one slide (corresponding to different sections of the reading).  Each group would then give a brief 5-minute presentation on their portion of the reading.  They worked through the groups from the beginning of the reading to the last section. This project worked well (though some students did not always have the correct adaptors to connect their computers to their table’s monitor projection port).

Another activity involved researching in class for students’ final research papers. In this instance, the class worked on developing citation and bibliographic skills.  Students were asked to look up various library resources and then cite their work using APA.  They could practice using the library catalogue and databases in their groups (already pre-set by the smaller tables in the room), and then post their bibliographic information on the boards in the classroom.  Each group then presented their work to the rest of the class, and students were able to critique other groups’ bibliographic information and correct citations accordingly.  This way, the entire class could learn and discover how to use APA properly together.

Andrew developed these activities by attending a MacPherson Institute workshop, corresponding with colleagues in the field, and from reading and researching several online resources.

One of the biggest practical challenges was having students prepare themselves at the beginning of each class for the active-learning environment.  For instance, students tend to need to be reminded to set-up their table’s monitors at the beginning of each class, and to come prepared to class with electronic devices that are compatible with the in-class technology.  In addition, some students do tend to avoid active engagement.  Some students tried to ‘hide’ along the sidelines of the class, such as behind the large pillar in the third-floor room. (Note: This particular room has since been slightly redesigned to minimize the impact of the structural pillar.) Students were assigned marks for most active participation activities, which helped to encourage participation.  As the term progressed and students became more integrated into the active-learning environment, the room fostered a vibrant classroom community, which served to promote active engagement among students.

His advice to other instructors would be to attend some MacPherson Institute courses, visit the classroom well ahead of time, spend some time online researching various active-learning activities, and compile a list of activities that they believe might suit the subject being taught.

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