What is the idea?
A carousel is an interactive approach to teaching and learning. By introducing a carousel in a session, you allow students to move around different stations where different activities can take place. Although this idea can find applications in many formats, I have used this idea to introduce contemporary controversial subjects such as ethics and policies on genetic modification in a 2nd year undergraduate course.
Why this idea?
A carousel is a fun way to allow students to experience different activities during a single session. The type of learning that takes place in such an active-learning method could vary significantly depending on the type of activities designed at each station.
However, a carousel activity, when designed effectively, will align with the main principles of active and experiential learning. Students are taking a central role in their learning, but learning becomes collaborative as student interactions are encouraged. Through this process students are supported to practice, develop and reflect on their skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and communication (Wurdinger & Carlson, 2010).
When this idea takes place in a physical space, it also allows students to move from one station to another, allowing them to take a break and refocus for the next activity. The importance of the structure of active learning spaces has been explored extensively in the literature and it shows how the physical space, where such activities will occur, needs to be carefully considered (Nicol et al., 2017).
How could others implement this idea?
There are endless variations that could be used in a carousel, however there is a set of key considerations for designing stations and those are:
The aims of the session. Clearly defined aims are essential for further designing the activity. In this workshop, I wanted to raise students’ awareness of ethical issues around genetic modification, and to have the opportunity to discuss contemporary cases on genetic modification. This would further allow them to develop their skills in forming arguments and presenting their ideas to their peers.
Topic of each station. The selection of topics or mini-activities for each station need to be carefully considered, to avoid repetition and retain students’ interest. To that end, I designed 4 stations to discuss genetic modification of different organisms (i.e. plants, animals, micro-organisms and humans).
Number of students per station. The number of stations and number of students in class are strongly interlinked. You wouldn’t want to have a very small number of stations that end up being overcrowded, but neither a large number of stations, that will result in a very limited interactivity/discussion amongst peers. A recommended number of members per group is usually between 6-8.
Level of interactivity at each station. This is an important factor, as it allows you to estimate the duration spent for each session. In my session, I was supported by teaching assistants that were ‘stationed’ in each station. Their task was to provide the guidance for each station and facilitate the discussion by asking prompting questions. They were also very helpful with ensuring that discussions were always respectful.
Duration of the session. This is equally important to ensure that sufficient time is given for each group to work on each station.
In this workshop, every station had three cases that reported news on genetic modification. When a group arrived at a station, the teaching assistant asked them to split into smaller groups. Each sub-group would read the article and answer a set of questions which included questions such as:
- Who are the stakeholders and what are their values/concerns?
- What are the potential benefits and risks of these approaches?
- What are their ethical viewpoints?
- Are there any alternatives?
- What additional information do you need in order to make an informed decision, about whether it is an ethical application of genetic modification?
They were then asked to consider what their decision and the justification of their decision would be.
Following this step, each sub-group would briefly present their case and views to the other members of the group. A timer on the screen was used to also indicate when groups needed to rotate and move to the next station.
The session would end with a plenary where students could share their experience on the carousel. The discussion was led with questions such as: Which cases were more controversial for their group? What alternative views did they encounter that they were not aware of?
In my experience, those sessions were always successful and allowed students to not only explore and gain a more diverse understanding of ethical issues, but also see how their field of study is applied in the real world. At the same time, via active learning approaches, the students developed and practiced their skills in approaching and discussing contemporary controversial issues.
Transferability to different contexts
Instead of asking students to evaluate case studies and share their views on controversial subjects, carousels can also be used for other activities in almost every discipline. Activities could be teacher-led, such as in my case where a prescriptive approach was given on what to be discussed, or could be more student-led, where a general task may be given to students and each group can choose how to approach the task (for instance, the creation of an artefact to demonstrate an idea). Carousels can be an excellent option for co-creation of outputs as well, where each group initiates an output (for instance, an answer to a question) and other groups add to that output once they reach that station.
Carousels could also be used in online teaching, although students will miss out on the important element of physically moving around the different stations, and the opportunity to take a short break and refocus.
Online collaborative activities could be mapped against the taxonomy of collaboration as introduced by Salmons (2019). The taxonomy of collaboration has three main components: collaborative processes (mindful reflection, review and dialogue), levels of collaboration (parallel, sequential or synergistic collaboration) and the trust continuum. By considering the taxonomy of collaboration in designing collaborative learning activities, we can offer students the opportunity to not only develop content knowledge but also to develop procedural skills in a digital-connected world (Lemon & Salmons, 2020).
In summary, carousel sessions can be applied in a wide range of contexts, both offline and online and can have great benefits for students’ learning and experience.
Lemon, N., & Salmons, J. (2020). Reframing and rethinking collaboration in higher education and beyond. Routledge.
Nicol, A., Owens, S., Le Coze, S., MacIntyre, A., & Eastwood, C. (2017). Comparison of high-technology active learning and low-technology active learning classrooms. Active Learning In Higher Education, 19(3), 253-265.
Salmons, J. (2019). Learning to collaborate, collaborating to learn. Stylus Publishing.
Wurdinger, S. D., & Carlson, J. A. (2010). Teaching for experiential learning: Five approaches that work. Rowman & Littlefield.