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Dr. Andy Roddick, Anthropology 2RP3: Religion and Power in the Past (approximately 100 students)

Roughly 10% of this course was devoted to active-learning activities.  These activities were mostly small break-out discussion sessions among groups of 8-9 students.  Dr. Roddick would post a series of questions on Google Docs, which students would access during class, while they were in their groups.  They would work as a group to answer their questions, projecting their answers onto their group’s monitor.  Answering these questions would sometimes involve going back to the assigned readings, which could also be shared on their monitor.  After the group activity was completed he would highlight particular groups’ answers on everyone’s monitors.

He developed these activities from online information (including several ‘technology in higher education’ podcasts he regularly listens to), discussions with colleagues, and an active-learning workshop hosted by the MacPherson Institute.

Dr. Roddick found that the main practical challenge was balancing lecture content vs. active-learning.  This course had always been lecture based, and he is still working out that balance. Certainly the time involved in preparing them was a big factor, but also a certain fear of failure (including the implementation of the classroom technology).   Semesters are short, so he decided to slowly implement factors instead of completely flipping the class. In the future, at least for this course, he plans to take a few more steps towards more active learning activities.  He was pleasantly surprised by student participation.  He thought that it was quite good, and that the classroom arrangement really made a difference in this regard.

Students were not graded on their participation, only for their presence/absence during the discussions themselves.  The active-learning activities were a success in that student papers were stronger and exam grades were (very slightly) higher than in previous years.  As he implements further activities in the future, he hopes to include a few more strategies for evaluation (which is where the MacPherson Institute workshops may be helpful).

His advice to other instructors who want to use active-learning methods is to take baby-steps.  He is sceptical of completely flipped classrooms, and a strong believer in the power of a good lecture.