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Making Your Head Explode and Other Classroom Delights: The Importance of Active Learning. Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. Outline for My Presentation. Why active learning is important Why instructors don’t use active learning Components of active learning Types of active learning

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Making Your Head Explode

and Other Classroom Delights:

The Importance of

Active Learning

Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr.

Outline for My Presentation

  • Why active learning is important

  • Why instructors don’t use active learning

  • Components of active learning

  • Types of active learning

  • Resources for active learning.

Classroom Realities

  • Professors like to profess

  • Regardless of class size, the dominant teaching activity is the lecture

  • Active learning often requires more work than preparing a lecture.

Active Learning: A Definition

Active learning comprises an array of learning situations in and out of the classroom in which students enjoy hands on and “minds-on” experiences.

Students learn through active participation in simulations, demonstrations, discussions, debates, games, problem solving, experiments, and writing exercises.

Why Go To College?

College should change the individual

And that change should be positive.

Responsibilities Toward My Students

  • Expose them to a world they do not know

  • Improve their thinking skills

  • Improve their ability to express themselves

  • Help them evaluate information quality

  • Convince them that learning is a life-long activity.

“To Do List” for Each Day

  • Think

  • Think

  • Think...

Critical Thinking

  • What is it that you are being asked to believe?

  • What evidence are you given to support that claim?

  • What thoughts do you have about alternative explanations for the claim?

  • How would you seek to verify or refute your alternative explanations?


I am a psychic.


There is no such thing as proof in science.

Consider the Following Number Sequence

2 4 6

The Nature of Proof

  • Mathematical and logical proofs are final

  • Scientific “truths” are provisional

  • Scientific theories have some measure of accepted validity until a better theory is introduced

  • No scientific knowledge is final.

Why Active Learning is Important

  • Gets students out of their passive mode of learning

  • Increases student involvement in class

  • Increases cognitive demands made on students

  • Fosters elaboration of meaning, enhancement of context, and the processing of information at different levels

  • Improves critical thinking skills.

And Other Reasons ...

  • Improve communication skills

  • Increase intrinsic motivation

  • Promote lifelong learning

  • Allows faculty to monitor the process and progress of learning more closely

  • Can accommodate different learning preferences

  • Can improve student satisfaction with courses.


Divide the Class in Halves

In a moment I am going to read you a list of words, but first I want to give you some instructions.

Count or estimate the number of vowels in each word that I will read to you.

As I read each word, rate the word on a 1-5 scale (with 5 being best) in terms of its value to you if you were stranded on a desert island.

Now, the words

Staying with Memory for a Few Minutes

Alan Baddeley’s work on working memory

Two tasks

One More Memory Activity

All Purpose Memory Demonstration

(primacy, recency, frequency, semantic distinctiveness, chunking, constructive memory)

And One Final Memory Demo

Does frequent exposure to something, that is, repeated experiences with something, ensure that we will remember it well?

I want to ask you some questions about a U. S. penny

Why Instructors Don’t Use Active Learning

  • They believe they are already using it

  • They are uncertain about how to do it

  • They fear that things will likely go wrong

  • They believe that active learning is gimmicky

  • Active learning activities take up too much class time and too much time to prepare.

And Other Reasons...

  • Activities are too expensive (equipment intensive)

  • Instructor control of the class is reduced

  • Does not fit their teaching style

  • The effort will not be sufficiently rewarded

  • Lecturing is easier.

Components of Active Learning

  • Active participation by the students

  • Ideally involves all students in the class

  • Students clearly understand the relevance of the activity to the subject matter at hand

  • Should stimulate learning at higher levels

  • Activities vary in the time they require

  • Involves clear feedback to the students

  • Some activities should be student-generated.


Writing Exercises


Student research

Simulations, games



Field experiences

Computer activities

Jigsaw groups

Problem-based activities

In-class experiments

Types of Active Learning

A Simulation

Learning to Read

page 6

The Problems with Small Samples

M&M Plain Candies

  • Brown30%

  • Red20%

  • Yellow20%

  • Blue10%

  • Green10%

  • Orange10%

And Another Example ...

Teaching your students about surveys:

CNN: Text one of the

following two numbers

to let us know how you

feel about the President’s

economic stimulus package.

The Hite Report (1976)

95% of American women are unhappy in their marriages.

“One hundred thousand women, ages fourteen to seventy-eight, were asked...”

And Another

Shere Hite

Personality Testing:Barnum Statements

Personality Adjective Checklist

ActiveCooperative Industrious Persistent

AdaptableCurious Initiative Planful

AggressiveDaring Intelligent Praising

AmbitiousDetermined Loyal Relaxed

AttractiveDominant Mannerly Resourceful

AssertiveEfficient Mature Talkative

CapableEnterprising Mischievous Trusting

ConfidentForceful Opportunistic Understanding

ConsiderateGood Natured Peaceable Warm

ContentedIndependent Persevering Wholesome

Personality Type C

You have a great need for other people to like you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your adjustment to the opposite sex has presented some problems for you. More disciplines and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept other’s statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.

How effective do you believe the personality test was in revealing your personality?

Circle one of the numbers below.


  • 2 3 4 5


    correspondence correspondence

    at all

Resources for Active Learning

  • Teaching journals

  • Teaching conferences

  • Active learning handbooks

  • Publisher (textbook) resources

  • On-line resources

Teaching Journals

  • Research in the Teaching of English (1967)

  • Teaching Political Science (1973)

  • Teaching Sociology (1973)

  • Teaching English in the 2-Year College (1974)

  • Teaching of Psychology (1974)

  • Teaching Philosophy (1975)

  • Teaching History (1976)

Teaching Resources in Psychology

  • More than 25 books of activities

  • Other books: Teaching Intro, Multiculturalism, Writing, Gender, History, Sexuality, etc.

  • National and regional teaching conferences: NITOP, Eastern, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Mountain States, Western, Best Practices, and others by state

  • APA and APS programming

  • On-line aids from publishers, Society for the Teaching of Psychology, APA (OPL).

The End

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