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Dr. Tina Fetner, Sociology 4DD3: Social Movements and Social Change (approximately 25 students)

Dr. Fetner’s class is organized around term projects completed by small groups. Each week, the second half of class is dedicated to academic skill building, research, data analysis, and writing through small group activities in the active-learning classrooms.  Approximately 35-50% of the course is dedicated to hands-on work in small groups.

She developed the activities based on her research on active-learning classrooms.  She also attended classes on other campuses structured around active-learning, and read the syllabi of other active-learning courses.

This was the first time she taught this course, so she was able to develop the activities specifically for the active-learning classroom.  Dr. Fetner feels that if she were to convert one of her existing classes to active-learning, it would take almost as much work as designing a new course from scratch. All assignments, the grading structure, the pace of class, and the subject matter is organized around the active-learning activities, and it takes a great deal of time to research and develop active-learning practices.

Because the active-learning activities are in groups, she evaluates the quality of the group project.  Students are also asked to complete a survey in which they estimate the share of work that each groupmate, including themselves, contributed to the assignment.  Grades can then be adjusted for students around whom a consensus develops that they did more or less work than others. However, this is a last resort, as Dr. Fetner also puts a good deal of work into helping small groups plan the task assignments fairly, mediate conflicts in the groups, and help track down students who may not be communicating with their groups.

Her advice to other instructors is to argue against an approach that dabbles in active learning as an aside. This frustrates students who want to be able to know with certainty what to expect in a course. Instead, “bake” the active-learning right into the structure of the course, make it a priority, and then the students will know what to expect.