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Basic Approaches :: Basic Approaches for Active Learning in Physically-Distanced Learning Spaces

Active learning approaches you can use in a physically-distanced learning spaces.


As part of the Smart Restart plan, academic instruction for the Fall 2020 semester will consist of a mixture of both in-person and remote courses. To minimize the risk to faculty, staff, and students, the university will rely on physical distancing in campus classrooms. For students taking in-person classes, learning spaces will be redesigned to ensure safe distancing between students. These changes, however, present a challenge to traditional active learning approaches used in classrooms. The resources presented here guide ways of adjusting these activities to meet the changes in classroom spaces. The following are a selection of commonly-used active learning approaches that should meet the majority of instructional needs. Additional activities can be found on the Remote Instruction Knowledge Base.


FishBowl Discussions

The Fishbowl Discussions approach is one that encourages full student participation, reflection, and depth of knowledge. Students are broken up into groups or teams. Each team takes turns being engaged in a discussion on a topic (inside the bowl) and observing others' discussions (out of the bowl). Students "in the bowl" respond to an instructor prompt. Students outside of the bowl listen and reflect on the alternative viewpoints.

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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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Small-Group Discussions

The Small-Group Discussions approach provides students the opportunity to share ideas or opinions without having to address the entire class. A simple small-group discussion asks students to divide into groups and democratically discuss a prompt provided by the instructor. A member is selected to report the highlights from their discussion to the entire class. Small-group discussion structures include group member roles (note-taker, devil's advocate, expert, spokesperson), turn-taking rules for speaking, and team or individual discussion question worksheets.

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Student-Defined Questions

The Student-Defined Questions approach has students individually 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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The Think/Pair/Share approach poses a question, asks students to reflect on the question, and has them share their ideas with others. Think has students reflect before speaking to organize their thoughts. Pair and Share ask students to compare and contrast their thoughts with others and rehearse their responses before sharing with the whole class.

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1 **** Basic Approaches for Active Learning in Physically-Distanced Learning Spaces
2 Fishbowl Discussion
3 Minute Paper / Muddiest Point
4 Student-Defined Questions
5 Think/Pair/Share
6 Small-Group Discussions

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