Active Learning Manifesto

Dr Andrew Middleton

Universities as sites of agency

We:

  • Advocate for an active curriculum as a place of inquiry and co-production
  • Create experiences designed to accommodate the interests of each of our students
  • Thrive in a culture of collaborative and scholarly enhancement
  • Inspire our students and our teachers through our commitment to active pedagogies
  • Value risks that must be taken and the trust that must be fostered for innovative thinking to excite us
  • Embrace challenging times and uncertain futures to create a curriculum constructed around authentic learning challenges

Academic agency: Inspired Academics

I:

  • Inspire, challenge, stretch and welcome each of my students
  • Nurture compassion, empathy, resilience, and emotional intelligence to ward against isolation and alienation
  • Situate knowledge in an ethos of risk taking and innovation
  • Personalise communal acts of learning by fostering curiosity, creativity and critical thinking
  • Imagine and design situations in which knowledge is co-created
  • Recognise the value of each student as a contributor to the whole
  • Embody authenticity by creating space for my students to negotiate, navigate, enact, and reflect on their learning
  • Design a place for each of my students to discover their future

Student agency: Students Become!

Students

  • Become your future self! Don’t wait! Enact your learning!
  • Explore your knowledge by actively developing your imagination and critical faculty
  • Contribute, co-operate and collaborate to learn amongst peers to push your possibilities!
  • Open yourself to opportunities by taking a lead and supporting others as you redefine your boundaries together
  • Make discovery your mission by interrogating knowledge, experimenting to uncover and defend truth!
  • Embody your learning! Connect your learning to the world around you

Global agency: We believe learning comes from the heart

  • Harnessing authentic challenges to stimulate our students
  • Engaging our students as explorers and co-creators of knowledge
  • Activating learning networks that connect people, ideas, and knowledge to real world problems, challenges and practices
  • Reflecting together on successes and failures to co-create insight
  • Tackling uncertain futures and solving global challenges

Introduction

The Active Learning Manifesto comes from contributions made by over 300 participants at the 4th Active Learning Conference on 21st July 2021. Anglia Ruskin University hosted the online conference in association with the Active Learning Network. Themed around All together – Active Inclusive Learning, delegates had worked together during the day across a programme composed of 29 workshops and papers.

A selection of statements directly quoted from the original activity

Universities

Academics

  • Risk taking is essential for progress – support your staff in taking risks; if they fear blame, they will not innovate
  • Remember our purpose – providing a GOOD educational experience for our students
  • Trust your academics to innovate
  • welcome space for innovation
  • Don’t just do what everyone else is doing. That’s boring
  • Do not be afraid to re-invent assessment. Authentic assessment need not be difficult to mark
  • Look ahead to the needs of the future
  • Give your staff more time to explore more innovative teaching and learning approaches
  • Knowledge on how we learn is constantly changing so we need to constantly change how we teach
  • Make it fun for you too
  • Learn from your students as much as they hope to learn from you
  • Find time to laugh
  • Be brave
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it’s something small
  • Active learning is not about lowering standards
  • listen to [student] voices
  • We need to treat staff and students as people – not just receptacles / delivery mechanisms for knowledge
  • Be brave and enable a community that allows for recovery from failure
  • Normalise failure and see it as a learning experience.
  • Active Learning Strategies are highly resilient, they are effective in face to face and virtual environments

Students

The World!

  • The world is changing and traditional education does not work anymore. Are you ready to be part of the change? Are you ready to be creative, explore your passions and make the best of your educational experience?
  • Learning is a two way partnership which we want you to be part of!
  • We are what we do! Let us all learn by doing!
  • Learning isn’t about being told things, it’s about generating our own knowledge
  • Active learning will help you prepare for the future – these authentic learning tasks will give you the skills and mindset you need to make a positive contribution to the workplace (and the world?).
  • Collaborate and network
  • Remember to look at feedback/forward, and don’t just focus on the mark
  • There is no better way to learn than getting active and applying your learning!
  • Be curious; be bold; be confident – explore
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions…

Good teaching is good teaching whether online or face to face and usually involves active learning!

Educating WORLD CHANGERS anywhere, anytime!

There is more to learning than lectures!

Online learning is still learning!

Universities (and other learning institutions) are open for business!

Tell (the) governments that good education makes good futures – stop cutting the investments

Methodology

The act of creating the Active Learning Manifesto brought members of the emerging global community of higher education academics and developers together through a 45-minute plenary co-writing challenge at the end of the conference day.

Following a brief introduction in which the concept of manifesto was introduced (Danchev, 2011), the author posed four questions:

  1. Institutional change – what do we need to tell our managers
  2. Academic innovation – what do we need to tell our academics?
  3. Learning environment – what do we need to tell our students?
  4. Global connections and scholarship of active learning – what do we need to tell the world?

Participants were asked to be bold and to create exclamatory responses to each of the four questions presented in a shared Google Doc. Participants created a single statement to each question and were asked to highlight responses which they felt to be particularly strong. The document remained accessible and live after the event to ensure participants could review and use the responses to inform their own practices immediately. Attribution to the participant contributors is included in the online document (https://bit.ly/3J79tjn).

The author promised to analyse the activity and present the co-created manifesto in a coherent form following the conference.

Thematic Analysis

The manifesto has been produced using thematic analysis; a method for analysing qualitative data and which entails the search across a dataset to identify and report on repeated patterns. (Braun & Clarke, 2006)

Kiger & Vapio (2020) provide guidance on using thematic analysis and explain that it is an appropriate way to analyse thoughts expressed in content across a dataset. This results in the active construction of meaningful patterns from responses to a research question. Themes can be generated inductively or deductively. In constructing the manifesto, aided by the brevity and initial structure of the dataset, the author has followed Kiger and Vapio’s recommended six steps of: becoming familiar with the data, generating initial codes, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and producing the report.

The manifesto form is intentionally used as an inherently biased “call to arms in the service of the revolution” (Danchev, 2011, p. 11) and its “paradigmatic orientations and assumptions” (Kiger & Vapio, 2020, p. 1) naturally affect the interpretations, their presentation, and their trustworthiness. Its purpose, ultimately, is to attract attention and engage. Its very form, therefore, reflects the spirit of active learning.

In conclusion: Using the Active Learning Manifesto

The original provocation was to find out what we, as academics and developers committed to active learning, wanted to tell four key stakeholder groups. A fifth stakeholder group, the contributors to the manifesto, may be its primary beneficiaries: we learnt through its construction, we learnt about construction, and we have a socially moderated instrument for engaging other stakeholders.

It is hoped that the manifesto is useful to any stakeholder group as a basis for discussing teaching, learning, curriculum design, and the relationship of active learning to partners and publics in the world beyond education. The manifesto will be successful if it provides you with a starting point to stimulate discussion: Do you agree with it? What is missing? What should be removed? How could it be improved? How else could its ideas be presented?

The first section considers the university as a site of agency. Here, ‘university’ may be understood as higher education in general, university leaders and managers in general, or your own university specifically, depending on your context.

In the second section, the notion of the ‘inspired academic’ suggests the ideas could be considered in PG Certs for Higher Education and staff development activities. It could be used by programme or course teams as the basis for developing a shared teaching and learning philosophy or at the outset of a curriculum review, for example.

Student Agency, the third section, is particularly exciting because it gives course and programme leaders a set of points to use with their students coming onto the course. In reading about active learning, it is common to see practitioners write about the need to challenge and develop their students’ expectations and create a common shared appreciation of the active learner-centred paradigm. It is hoped that these points frame useful induction activities and welcome packages.

Global Agency, the fourth section, helps to communicate to non-educators what happens in the contemporary university classroom and why developing capable, curious, creative and critical learners through immersion in authentic learning activities is in the interest of all of us.

The manifesto is playful! Each line of the respective calls is a mnemonic:

  • universities must be ACTIVE
  • academics must be INSPIRED
  • students must BECOME!
  • the world needs to know active learning comes from the HEART!

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all contributors, our colleagues, students and scholars, for inspiring us to develop the manifesto and providing the data from which it is derived.

I would particularly like to thank members of the Active Learning Network, which in recent years has become an inspiring and supportive force, modelling the principles of active learning in all that we do.

Andrew Middleton, for the Active Learning Network, March 2022

References

Active Learning Conference 2021 participants. (2022). Manifesto for active learning. Active Learning Network. https://bit.ly/3J79tjn

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2): 77–10. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.

Danchev, A. (Ed.). (2011). 100 artists’ manifestos: From the futurists to the stuckists. Penguin UK.

Kiger, M.E., & Varpio, L. (2020). Thematic analysis of qualitative data: AMEE Guide No. 131. Medical Teacher, 42(8), 846-854. https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159X.2020.1755030


About the Author

Andrew Middleton is a National Teaching Fellow committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.

Licence

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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Dr Andrew Middleton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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