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Facilitating active learning in large courses


Instructors teaching larger courses (150 + students) are presented with different challenges and need different solutions to engage students and facilitate learning. The resources presented here guide ways of adjusting these activities for large courses. The following are a selection of commonly-used active learning approaches that should meet the majority of instructional needs.

Background Knowledge Probe

The Background Knowledge Probe is designed to collect feedback on students’ prior learning, including knowledge or beliefs that may hinder or block further understanding. Students complete a short survey prepared by the instructor at the beginning of a course, the start of a new unit or lesson, or before introducing a new topic.

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Defining Features Matrix

The Defining Features Matrix approach requires students to categorize concepts according to the presence (+) or absence () of critical defining features. This activity helps students develop conceptual organizational skills and data on their analytic reading and thinking skills.

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Minute Paper/Muddiest Point

The Minute Paper/Muddiest Point approaches have students write quick responses to a question to help instructors gain insight or understanding of content. Questions could include: “What was the most important thing you learned today?“; “What important question remains unanswered?”; or “What was the muddiest point in _______ ?

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Pro and Con Grid

The Pro and Con Grid approach has students follow a decision-making process by reviewing an issue, creating a list of pro and con arguments, and making a decision based on the weight and analysis of those points. A review of students’ lists reveals the depth and breadth of their analyses, capacity for objectivity, and strength of their decision-making skills. In large courses (150 +), it can be difficult to facilitate active learning. This document walks you through the steps in planning and implementing this approach in your large course.

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Student-Defined Questions

The Student-Defined Questions approach asks students individually to reflect on a reading assignment, lectures, or presentation. Before class, students write a question based on that content and write a model answer for it. In class, student pairs exchange questions and write a response to the partner’s question. They trade, read, and compare answers.

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1 **** Active Learning in Large Courses (online)
2 Defining Features Matrix in Large Courses (online)
3 Background Knowledge Probe in Large Courses (online)
4 Student-Defined Questions in Large Courses (online)
5 Pro and Con Grid in Large Courses (online)
6 Minute Paper/Muddiest Point in Large Courses (online)

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