This is reflected and encouraged through:
What does this mean?
A key role for teachers is to (co-)create an active, engaging and collaborative learning environment with scaffolding to support the development of and competence and confidence in what, for many students, are new approaches to learning. Research on learning and teaching in higher education provides strong arguments and evidence about the importance and impact of ‘what the student does’ (Biggs 1999) to learn effectively. Schneider and Preckel (2017) indicate that social interaction and stimulating meaningful learning are the most impactful variables. Two key variables within social interaction are teacher encouragement of questions and discussion as well as student-student interactions, particularly through small group learning. The methods and techniques introduced in this guide draw on social constructivist theories of learning: that learning is a social process. They are all interactive.
Active learning involves students participating in carefully designed and framed opportunities to read, write, analyse, discuss and create to encourage higher order thinking and sense-making. One version of student-focused active learning is the flipped or inverted classroom where content delivery (via video lectures or mini-lectures, readings and other resources) occurs out-of-class while face-to-face or online class time is devoted to problem solving, discussion and clarification of ideas (Akcayir & Akcayir 2018). Student-focused activities can be incorporated into any learning environment through think-pair-share activities, small group discussion and problem solving amongst other techniques. What is important is to design opportunities for students to make sense of the knowledge and practices of the discipline through active, engaged, collaborative learning.
Inquiry-oriented approaches engage ‘the learner, with appropriate scaffolding, in the practices and conceptualizations of the discipline and … promote the construction of knowledge’ (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan & Chinn 2007, p. 105), and position learning in relation to authentic, complex tasks relevant to the discipline. There is a spectrum of problem-based learning (PBL) approaches – from small-scale investigations through to projects and research linked to the inquiry process of the discipline. For example, Kuster et al. (2018) provide a conceptual framework for inquiry-oriented approaches in maths, whilst Bell et al. (2010) review approaches in the sciences.
Starting with a real-life problem and with the guidance of a facilitator, students identify their own issues and questions with an emphasis on group work and use of library, web and other information resources. They then examine the resources they need to research the problem, acquiring the requisite knowledge (which is more readily retained because it has been acquired by experience and in relation to a real problem). Teachers become facilitators, encouraging and supporting students to take responsibility for what and how they learn. Students gain a deeper understanding of disciplinary knowledge and practice, and the knowledge development and leadership skills required for tackling complex problems in the real world.
Development of critical thinking skills
An important part of being an active learner is being able to interact or engage with topic content. Encouraging students to question, analyse and evaluate content through thinking critically about it. Research shows that critical thinking skills do not automatically develop in students through learning topic content or through the critical thinking demands of the course (Abrami et al 2015).
To improve critical thinking outcomes for your students:
Acquiring critical thinking capacity is an ongoing process rather than the mechanical adoption of a set of heuristics. As a teacher, you can start the development of critical thinking skills in your students by ensuring your teaching reflects what you want them to learn/become.
Development of a sense of community among students
Feeling part of a community can have positive effects on student engagement, persistence and learning: a feeling of isolation can be a critical factor in students’ decisions to withdraw from study. Garrison and colleagues’ Community of Inquiry (CoI) model emphasises the importance of social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence in the learning environment and the interactions between them (Szeto 2015). Encourage a sense of community through facilitated/free discussion via discussion forums and/or chat tools, and learning activities that encourage or require peer-to-peer interaction. Wikis can be an effective tool to encourage collaborative, communal learning. Zheng, Nilya and Warschauer (2015) provide an example of the design and evaluation of a wiki as a collaborative learning space.
Dialogical approaches student-student and student-teacher
Dialogical approaches to learning emphasise and develop skills in types of talk that extend beyond traditional three-stage ‘question, respond and evaluate the response’ exchanges that are intended to guide students towards pre-determined answers. Dialogical approaches ‘seek to facilitate students’ construction of knowledge through the questioning, interrogation and negotiation of ideas and opinions in an intellectually rigorous, yet mutually respectful manner’ (Teo 2019, p. 170). Such approaches centre on carefully structured sequences of questions to draw out students’ ideas and conceptions; subject them to careful scrutiny and critique of argument, assumptions and evidence; and build on various ideas and contributions. Dialogue does not happen by chance but is intentionally integrated into topic design. Calcagni and Lago (2018) provide a framework for analysing key domains and components of dialogical teaching to assess its fit within a particular learning context, and to guide detailed design in contexts where it is an appropriate strategy. Simpson (2016) provides a detailed example incorporating dialogue into a blended learning environment.
Akcayir, Gokce & Akcayir, Murat 2018, The flipped classroom: A review of its advantages and challenges, Computers and Education, 126, pp. 334-45
Alghasab, Maha, Hardman, Jan & Handley, Zoe 2019, Teacher-student interaction on wikis: Fostering collaborative learning and writing Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 21, pp. 10-20
Bell, Thorsten, Urhahne, Detlef, Schanze, Sascha & Ploetzner, Rolf 2010, Collaborative Inquiry Learning: Models, tools, and challenges, International Journal of Science Education, 32, 3, pp. 349-77
Biggs, John 1999, What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning, Higher Education Research & Development, 18, 1, pp. 57-75
Calcagni, Elisa & Lago, Leonardo 2018, The three domains for dialogue: a framework for analysing dialogic approaches to teaching and learning, Learning, Culture and Social Interaction,18, pp. 1-12
Egege, S & Parker, S 2019, Think, talk, write, reflect: How to teach students to think critically, Refereed proceedings STARS conference, Melbourne, accessed 15th December 2019
Kuster, George, Johnson, Estrella, Keene, Karen & Andrews-Larson, Christine 2018, Inquiry-Oriented Instruction: A Conceptualization of the Instructional Principles, PRIMUS, 28, 1, pp. 13-30
Schneider, M & Preckel, F 2017, Variables associated with achievement in Higher Education: A Systematic Review of Meta-Analyses, Psychological Bulletin,
Simpson, Alyson 2016, Designing pedagogic strategies for dialogic learning in higher education, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 25, 2, pp. 135-51
Szeto, Elton 2015, Community of inquiry as an instructional approach: What effects of teaching, social and cognitive presences are there in blended synchronous learning and teaching?, Computers and Education, 81, pp. 191-201
Teo, Peter 2019, Teaching for the 21st century: a case for diaqlogical pedagogy, Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 21, pp. 170-178
Zheng, Binbin, Niiya, Melissa & Warschauer, Mark 2015, Wikis and collaborative learning in higher education, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 24, 3, pp. 357-74
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