In 2014, Dr. Shofner earned an Elevate Fellowship through the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center at the University of Maryland to redesign her course and incorporate active learning into her classroom. Given the success that active learning courses showed elsewhere, she was excited to integrate this form of learning into her own course. Her first major step was replacing three of the course’s lecture days with lessons focused on active learning. This has since evolved into six entire lecture days that are now completely devoted to active learning activities, along with many other partial class periods incorporating elements of active learning. At the heart of this peer-to-peer learning are the ULAs- undergraduate learning assistants- students who previously excelled in the course and have volunteered to serve as learning assistants for valuable teaching experience. These students build, shape, and guide active learning activities based on their own experiences in the course and are a large part of the success of the course.
Dr. Shofner’s analyses of the program showed clear improvements following the integration of active learning into her classroom. She assessed the program’s success by incorporating active learning elements into one section of the course while leaving another untouched. Students’ reflections on group activities and peer review processes in the lecture were largely positive, and students in sections that incorporated the new system completed the course with significantly higher grades (Figure 2). The effect was clear enough that Dr. Shofner soon chose to begin integrating active learning into all of her sections to allow all students in the course the benefits of the new approach.
Given the success of the program, it's no surprise that Dr. Shofner continues to expand and refine the presence of active and peer-to-peer learning in her course. She constantly monitors class data and offers extra credit in exchange for answering surveys that help her to continue to improve the program. Despite the added difficulties, she finds this new approach to teaching to be a more rewarding experience both for her and her students. It will be interesting to observe the growing future of active learning, both in Dr. Shofner’s classroom and on a larger scale, and to discover the difference it will make to our understanding of education as a whole.
Arielle Arsenault-Benoit is a PhD student in the Fritz lab, studying the community ecology and landscape genomics of Culex mosquitoes on an urban to rural gradient.
Alireza Shokoohi is a Master’s student in the Lamp lab, currently investigating management practices to enhance populations of beneficial natural enemies in agricultural drainage ditches.
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