Teaching and Learning Activities
The work you have done in mapping your curriculum, writing
your outcomes and planning for what you will teach your students, and what they
will need to master in your course, all comes to life in the classroom - in lectures, tutorials and students’ own engagement
with you, and with each other and with the knowledge. Designing engaging,
relevant and stimulating teaching and learning activities that excite and
motivate lecturers, students and tutors is thus a crucial part of a successful aligned
and constructive curriculum.
A seminal paper by John Biggs argues that good teaching
focuses on what students are doing (Biggs 2012 ). The focus should not be on what the
lecturer or tutor is saying or doing, or how much they know; it should not even
be on what students are hearing. Rather, the focus of good teaching must be on
what students are actually doing with the knowledge, skills and competencies
they are acquiring, because learning doesn’t occur through just listening; action
is also required.
The following resources are teaching and learning activities
that can be adapted and used in a range of classroom situations, with large and
small groups of students. They are all downloadable in PDF format. [Click on the blue hyperlinks to download.]
This is not only a useful learning tool for academic
lecturers. It can be used with undergraduate and postgraduate students as well,
for both individual and collaborative work. Concept mapping helps students to clarify
not only the concepts they are learning but, importantly, the links and
relationships between concepts. As a learning tool it can show them where their
knowledge is firm and where they need to put in further work and time. As an
assessment tool it can give educators a sense of where students are clear on
the course content and where there are gaps that need to be addressed through
further engagement in lectures or tutorials.
Using concept maps in the classroom
Participatory Learning in Action (PLA) Techniques
There is a wide range of PLA techniques that can be used in
teaching and learning activities. However, the resource here highlights a few
that have been used by educators at UWC in particular, and that have been very
useful. The main strength of PLA techniques is that they encourage links
between students’ own lifeworlds and the more formal spaces of higher education
and disciplinary learning; they encourage the sharing of information; and they
have the ability to deepen students’ own sense-making of their learning
processes. These activities work best when facilitators have some skill in
using them, as they need to be mediated carefully.
Using PLA techniques in teaching and learning
Asking questions is one of the most basic, and potentially
effective, ways of engaging students in their own learning process. However,
simply asking students if they understand, and then taking their silence to
mean either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and then moving on is probably not a very useful way
of finding out how they are making sense of what they are learning. One
effective method of questioning is the ‘Socratic Method’ which uses certain
kinds of questions for certain kinds of tasks or situations to scaffold and
guide the students in answering, so that they can see more clearly what they do
and do not yet understand or know, and so that the educator also has a better
idea of where there may be gaps that need to be covered with further activities
Using Socratic questioning in the classroom
Formative quizzes are a very good way of doing continuous assessment with your students, and finding out from them whether they are understanding the course content - their levels of understanding and where their gaps are. The idea behind formative quizzes is that they are low-stakes (meaning that if they do not do well, there is not much to lose in terms of CAM marks), and they are aimed at developing and deepening engagement with the knowledge and understanding of it. These quizzes can be designed for large and small class groups, and can be done in lectures or in tutorials. They can be a very useful way of revising for tests and exams, or preparing for written assignments, and they create a more interactive way of working through the course content, rather than simply 'lecturing' it.
Using formative quizzes for continuous learning
Problem-solving does not necessarily work for every discipline, and it is a tool that is used in different ways in different disciplines, depending on the way knowledge is constructed and what kinds of things would count as 'problems' and 'solutions'. However, this is a useful tool for encouraging critical thinking, and inquiry-based learning, and it encourages students to be more proactive about using the knowledge and skills they have been learning to solve problems that they may encounter in the world of work or in further levels of study.
Problem-solving in the classroom
Debates are a very useful teaching tool when there are
interesting and divided issues that need to be thought about critically and
from different angles, and where students need to do this thinking and talking
actively. Teams of students can be set two sides of an issue, and given time to
discuss these before presenting their arguments and engaging in the debate.
Fellow students could be asked to adjudicate, with the lecturer as facilitator,
stepping in to manage time, and to guide the discussion following the debate. These
can also be fun, and can give more creative and verbally strong students a
different outlet for making sense of their learning, as well as encouraging less
outgoing and well-spoken students to develop their capacity to reason verbally
and speak in public.
Using debates to enhance classroom learning
Role-plays can be a creative and expressive tool for getting
students to engage with what they are learning in a different way. These can be
used in large and small classes, and different students can be chosen or can
volunteer to take on the roles. Role-plays are best used when there is a
problem or an issue under discussion, for example between a lawyer and a client,
or a nurse and a patient, and having the students discuss and explore the
problem actively and creatively would lead to deeper understanding of how to
solve the problem. Also, they are fun for the whole class and students tend to respond
well to being asked to undertake more enjoyable tasks.
Using role-playing for active learning
Freewriting is a very useful tool for getting students to
think and write, and be a little critical, at the same time. Freewriting can be
used in a range of ways, but generally freewrites are short and focused on a
single question or mini-topic. Students can be encouraged to write during class
– at the beginning or the end, or at different points during a discussion.
These freewrites can be just for them, or educators can collect them at certain
points during the term or semester and read a representative selection to get a
snapshot of how the class is coping with the tasks that are being set.
Freewriting: writing to learn
Small group activities
Some of these activities can be adapted and used in lectures to encourage students to participate, to think, to speak and to interact with you and with one another about aspects of the lecture topic or theme. Using small group work requires some organisation and forward planning and often the creative use of space when in cramped or tiered lecture rooms, but can be very rewarding and enjoyable for lecturers and students.
Ideas for group work in lectures