The Holy Grail of Active Learning (Part I)

This is the story of two brave explorers who are paving their way, through forests of disengagement, swamps of lecture slides, and competing with Facebook posts, to find their Holy Grail – An active learning environment in their class.

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This expedition was funded in 2014 by the L&T Enhancement Grant  when Mauricio Marrone and Murray Taylor won a grant called “Talk Less, Learn More.’ The idea was to create an environment that promoted active learning within the class. A little over a year into it, they already have more than a few of trophies and adventures to show for it.

In an exclusive interview with us, the brave duo talked about some of the strategies they use as they make their way towards their goal.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.26.35 pmStarting class with a song. If I asked you to pick the top three coolest subjects you did at university, I have a feeling, accounting wouldn’t be at the top. But what if you were explained accounting concepts by tying them to a song? That’s exactly what Mauricio does in his second year accounting unit. “Playing a song while I am setting up for the lecture gets the students automatically engaged and in the right mood for the class. And it also gets students thinking – what in the world does this top chart song have to do with this topic?” For instance, now his class thinks of the revenue cycle when they hear “Money Money Money” by ABBA or the expense cycle when they hear “Bills” by Lunchmoney Lewis. Job well done.

Snowball: Another innovative activity used by the team takes reflection and makes it fun. At the start of the session, students are encouraged to think about their goal for that unit. It could be a grade, understanding the topic or anything else they prefer. They are then asked to imagine that they didn’t reach those goals by the end of the semester. They need to outline why they didn’t reach their semester long goals, right then – in the first week of class. This encourages students to think not just about the goals they have, but also reflect on the likely hurdles they will face in getting there.

At this stage, students are encouraged to write down why they think they are behind their goals on a piece of paper, scrunch it up and throw up in the air. Students are then asked to pick up any of the pieces of papers and after reading other answers they often realise that they are in the same boat as most others. The common hurdles that come up, says Murray, are usually the same – time management, lack of effort, balancing study and leisure etc. “Though there have been a few more interesting ones at times,” he adds, smiling mysteriously.

Hands holding gift in package with blue ribbon and colorful ballPost it notes and gifts: To encourage participation in the class, the team also uses the humble post-it notes! Whenever a student asks or answers a question, or participates in any way, they are handed a post-it note on which they write their name. At the end of the class, the notes are collected and a lucky winner chosen who receives a small prize!

Mauricio and Murray have a host of these tricks up their leather jacket sleeves. They firmly believe that this customised adventure kit helps them fight off the disenchantment and disengagement of the students. Some of the other methods they use are Socrative in class to promote anonymous participation; guest lectures every session to mix it up and provide corporate perspective; and an overall, approachable disposition to their teaching. Murray says he likes to, sometimes, sit beside his students and congenially ask them what they think of the slides or a particular topic. “I am actually quite surprised at how willing they are to share.”

However, a true wayfinder is known by his achievements, not his tool kit. So after running these initiatives for a complete session, focus groups (led by a research assistant) were held to get an understanding of the students’ views.

However, you will have to wait until the next post to see the results! There are some real gems in there, waiting to be picked up!

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