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Julie Gouweloos, Social Sciences 1SS3: Inquiry in the Social Sciences (approximately 30 students)

Roughly 75% of each 3-hour weekly session was devoted to active-learning activities.  Julie used an array of approaches, including:

  • In-class writing - using prompts, she had students write their responses and then discuss their reflections in groups. She found this helped to create dialogue while also allowing some of the less out-going students to share
  • Online quiz apps - this allowed students to participate using online technology while also allowing her to assess how well they are comprehending the main ‘take home’ points.
  • Debate - this allowed students to work collaboratively to create specific and informed arguments
  • Interactive presentations - this allowed students to use technology, to lead discussion, and to engage with others on a topic they found interesting
  • Problem-based application - using contemporary social issues as examples, she had students work collaboratively to apply the tools from the class to that social issue.
  • Discussion - each class was heavily reliant on discussion in larger and smaller groups; this helped to drive main points home while also encouraging students to develop their critical thinking skills.

Julie attended formal training courses offered by the MacPherson Institute, but much of the active learning strategies she developed from conversations with colleagues about what worked well/not well in their experiences.

She notes that the time it takes to plan these sorts of activities is somewhat challenging.  But the biggest challenge is finding a balance with the activity-based ideas. In some cases, activities can be fun to engage in; however, she found that students find some activities patronizing. This requires a lot of thinking on her part as to what the goal of the activity is and whether they will see that activity as beneficial.

Julie used an array of evaluation methods including peer-evaluation, self-evaluation, and her own assessment of the quality of student participation and development of important skills.  Her own assessment is weighted more heavily than student and self-evaluations, but the peer- and self-evaluation assessments are important to include.

Her advice to other instructors is to use approaches that feel authentic.  And once you have experience doing active-learning, create opportunities to share practical ideas with your colleagues – your experience is invaluable to others.