More Active Learning documents
Facilitating Background Knowledge Probe active learning activities in a classroom
Time and Effort
|Instructor Prep Time||Medium|
|Student Activity Time||Low|
|Instructor Response Time||Medium|
|Complexity of Activity||Medium|
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.|
Use it when you want...
- To identify the most effective starting point and level for a given lesson,
- To identify gaps in students' foundational knowledge around which you will be building future activities,
- To focus students’ attention on critical material,
- To provide a preview of the content that is to come, or
- To review content they already should know about a topic.
What students will need
- No special requirements for this approach.
The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Background Knowledge Probe learning activity within a classroom.
- Focus questions on specific information or concepts students will need to know to succeed in subsequent assignments.
- Prepare open-ended questions, short-answer questions, and multiple-choice questions that probe students’ existing knowledge of that concept, subject, or topic. Ask at least one item that most students will be able to answer correctly, and at least one that students may struggle to answer.
- Create a paper survey, an online, survey, or present your open-ended question on the screen.
- Direct students to answer the questions presented through the survey.
- Make a point of announcing that these probes are not tests or quizzes and are ungraded. Encourage students to give thoughtful answers that will help you make effective instructional decisions.
- Review the responses in class.
- Review responses and draw conclusions.
- Communicate the results at the next class by telling them how that information will affect what you do as an instructor and how it should affect what they will do as learners.
Accessibility and Room Considerations
- The wearing of masks by students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak. All classrooms that are large enough to normally require a microphone already have a microphone system with a communal clip-on pickup element. Further information about the availability of additional clip-on or headset microphone elements will be coming soon. View the instructions and short videos below to assist with the use of the microphones and the portable systems:
Angelo, Thomas A.and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp 121-125.