The Active Learner Classroom

Last month’s post on Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) was one example of a technique that could be used to promote an “active learner classroom”. This month we’ll unpack the active learner classroom concept, to get a sense of how an active classroom might further students’ information literacy.

It is likely that you already use active learning techniques in many of your classes and workshops, as any activity that allows students to participate in class is an example of active learning. A typical lesson often combines active student learning, e.g., hands-on activities, and instructor lecturing. In an active learning classroom, the role of the instructor is to lecture less and instead guide the students in directions that will allow them to “discover” the material, bringing them into the process of their own education. In this process students are meant to engage their higher learning. The point is not to make students busy, but to stimulate the processes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

The “why” of active learner classrooms is to address the shortcomings of a lecture-only lesson, which include students’ diminishing attention in class, and non-engagement of higher learning processes such as analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating. How does learning in an active classroom differ from a strictly lecture-based classroom? First of all, less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more emphasis is placed on developing students’ skills. Second, students get to practice higher order thinking: analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating, by being involved in activities like discussion, writing, reading and using digital tools. In a library information literacy setting discussion could be about the value of particular information sources (evaluating information’s usefulness to a specific research topic); using digital tools could simply be having students conduct searches using library databases. The emphasis being placed on group interaction and hands-on practice. Modeling the use of, say, a database and then allowing students to try using the tool themselves can go a long way in having students discover for themselves how to use the tools to find what they need – thus achieving one of the goals of active learning: stimulated personal inquiry and a degree of self-sufficiency when it comes to information literacy.

Some basics steps an instructor could use to foster an active learning classroom are:

  1. Talking informally with students as they arrive for class
  2. Expecting that students would participate and acting accordingly
  3. Arranging the classroom to encourage participation including putting chairs in a cluster
  4. Using small group discussion, questioning, and writing to allow for non-threatening methods of student discussion
  5. Giving students time to give responses, do not rush them
  6. Rewarding students for participating by praising them or paraphrasing what they say
  7. Reducing anonymity by introducing yourself and asking the students for their names. Ask the class to relate previous library experiences as you do this
  8. Drawing the students into discussion by showing the relevance of the library to their studies
  9. Allowing students time to ask questions at the end of class

The above are meant to provide a basis and overview of the active learner classroom. Upon this theoretical foundation, and basic tips, a whole host of specific active learning techniques could be used, and modified for use, to further library information literacy. Active learning is not meant to totally replace the lecture, as lecturing still has a place either alongside or apart from active learning, particularly in classrooms with a large number of students. However, given that many library instruction workshops have a small number of students, library workshops may be a great place to try some of the techniques and activities of active learning.

For more on the active learner classroom please see:

For other Teaching Tips and more Teaching Resources see:

LINC Toolkit – Teaching Resources

Thank you,

The Library Instruction Committee

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