Simon Pratt-Adams; Uwe Richter; and Mark Warnes
The purpose of writing this book was to collect the contributors’ experiences of introducing a wide range of Active Learning (AL) approaches in their respective institutions including such diverse activities as VR simulations, Experiential Learning and Authentic Assessment, SCALE-UP, UDL, TBL, PBL, EBL, and even OBL (Object-Based Learning)! The foregoing chapters are a collection of examples of good practice of innovations in active learning in higher education. In this last chapter, we bring together the key issues that have framed discussions and debates about the value of AL that are presented in this book. One thing common to all contributors was a series of challenges, which led to innovative solutions, and resulted in clear benefits for the students.
Identifying and overcoming challenges was highlighted by Berkson and Richter (Chapter 7) who focus on barriers and solutions, and describe some of the challenges Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and University of Bradford (UoB) faced when they introduced and scaled up TBL in their institutions, along with the solutions they developed to counteract them. Challenges experienced at UoB, and elsewhere, included the resistance from some staff, which required a shift in the learning culture, and the need to develop a collaborative community. One of ARU’s challenges, not mentioned by other authors, concerned the difficulty in addressing institutional assessment regulations intended to avoid over-assessment of students. The number of individual and Team Readiness Assurance Tests (iRATs and tRATs) far exceeded the number of assessments permitted per student, per module. However, by carefully labelling RATs as evidence of participation, and/or combining the scores into a single average mark, ARU has tried to accommodate the new approach. Changes to the regulatory framework are under discussion, which will provide a solution to the treatment of TBL assessments by allowing several assessment components to cumulatively form one assessment element.
An important challenge faced by several contributors was the availability of suitable learning spaces, a problem which was also explored at length by McNeil and Borg (Chapter 1), Björnsdóttir and Ásmundsdóttir (Chapter 10), and Middleton (Chapter 12). Suitable learning spaces are, of course, a central feature in many variants of AL, and locating and adapting suitable existing rooms, can pose a significant problem, particularly for universities with campuses with restricted room for expansion.
McNeil and Borg, for example, used an effective combination of persistent promotion to attract early adopters, and research to provide evidence to management. They also collaborated with professional services to develop a cohesive context around the expansion of AL across the university. Communities of teaching staff, such as Programme or Course Teams, for example, also help to reduce the burden of additional preparation and/or conversion of teaching materials, which can be a challenging enterprise for staff members working in isolation. For Björnsdóttir and Ásmundsdóttir, the problems surrounding converting traditional teaching rooms to active learning spaces were compounded by extensive resistance from colleagues, who (initially) refused to acknowledge the need for change. Several contributors noted the need to develop a new learning culture, one benefit of which is to reduce staff resistance. In his vignettes, Middleton explores five different approaches to adapting space to fit learning, including Stand-Up Pedagogies, and the Learning Space Walk.
In addition to staff resistance, some students were also less than enthusiastic about the introduction of AL. Initially at least, some students simply do not like TBL, because, as Smith (Chapter 9), for example, points out, this moves them out of their comfort zone and, as Berkson and Richter (Chapter 2) explain, away from what they consider to be ‘normal’ teaching practice. Other students resist group work and prefer to work individually. AL is, in most cases, collaborative, and for TBL at least, competitive, with teams vying to achieve the highest score in tRATs. Teams also try to develop the best responses in application exercises. Consequently, attendance increased as failure to attend affects not only for the students but also for their team members. Hobbs and Brown (Chapter 8), for instance, included contingency planning for students who failed to attend, so that they could still participate in the feedback cycle that is so central to their approach.
The benefits of AL approaches were clearly highlighted by all of the contributors. Several authors noted how AL enhances their students’ employability, for example. Driver et al. (Chapter 6) use cutting edge VR to provide alternative provision for nursing and teaching placements. Using VR in this way preserved the experiential learning so vital to these professions. Smith describes an authentic assessment process as involving students providing a service to external clients, and receiving feedback on their performance. Other authors, including McNeil and Borg, note that engagement with Problem- and Enquiry-Based Learning provides students with some of the soft skills that are valued by employers. Similarly Kukhareva, Lawrence and Koulle (Chapter 9) used Object-Based Learning to develop students’ soft skills. Rushworth and Lawson (Chapter 5) used a novel PBL case study in a UDL framework to test student knowledge and application, in which a students had to apply their clinical knowledge to solve the death of a fictitious student, including analysis of their social media presence.
An increase in student engagement itself was noted by a number of authors, simply as a result of students being actively engaged in the teaching session rather than as passive recipients. Milner (Chapter 4) introduced the innovative Topic Block Model to help students self-identify their weak areas. Milner consequently noted an increase in engagement due to students’ active participation with both pre-session material and post-session writing and discussion groups.
AL also improved student attitudes to group work, with Björnsdóttir and Ásmundsdóttir particularly noting improvements in the levels of efficiency and collaboration in class, with students complaining about peers who failed to attend. Similarly, Tweddell (Chapter 3) highlights the benefits of the bonding effect of social interactions of teamwork, as compared to passive forms of learning, which lead students to want both team and individuals to succeed.
Further benefits of AL noted by the contributors include inclusivity and how AL accommodates a diverse student body, facilitates formative feedback, and results in improvements in attendance. In addition, an improvement in pass marks was observed by Richter and Berkson, McNeil and Borg, Milner, and Hobbs and Brown. All of these factors result in higher student satisfaction.
Our intention is to encourage the introduction of AL approaches by sharing good practice. In doing so, we have also raised awareness of some of the challenges encountered by our contributors when trying to implement a new pedagogy, and some of the practical solutions they created to resolve them. Practical solutions such as:
- Refining the technological aspects (McNeil and Borg)
- Changing the institutional regulations (Berkson and Richter)
- Overcoming the dominance of the lecture (Tweddell)
- Introducing successive interventions based on student feedback (Milner)
- Re-designing the delivery and assessment process (Hobbs and Brown)
- Using research evidence to counter traditional attitudes (Björnsdóttir and Ásmundsdóttir)
Successful implementation of AL pedagogies has resulted in improved attendance, higher marks and pass rates, and student satisfaction. It is quite clear that the contributors feel a great sense of professional achievement and satisfaction when having overcome the challenges, were able to measurably improve the quality of the student experience.
We hope that this book sparks your imagination and inspires you to explore AL approaches to teaching and learning that can make a real difference to student engagement, satisfaction, and success.