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Indivisible or Intersecting?. A Cross Institutional View of Active Learning. Paul Wright Faculty of Technology, Southampton Solent University, SOUTHAMPTON, UK. [email protected] Wendelin Romer Centre for Active Learning, University of Gloucestershire, CHELTENHAM, UK

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Indivisible or intersecting

Indivisible or Intersecting?

A Cross Institutional View of Active Learning

Paul Wright

Faculty of Technology,

Southampton Solent University,


[email protected]


Centre for Active Learning,

University of Gloucestershire,


[email protected]


  • Active Learning – a brief introduction

  • The Project

  • Findings from one aspect of the research

  • Comparing two ‘models’

  • A serendipitous story

But first this
But first......this:

  • Take the 3 post-it notes and, one definition/word/phrase per post it, write down:

    The three things that best define Active Learning for you.......


  • The term ‘active learning’ (AL) is often used intuitively rather than with a common understanding (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

  • The link between ‘doing’ and ‘learning’ is often identified within the Confucian aphorism ‘I see, I forget; I hear, I remember; I do, I understand’ (Beard, 2008).

  • Such an approach has spawned a range of ‘active’ pedagogies, often termed ‘discovery learning’ (Mayer, 2004), often as a rail against lecturing (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

  • Recent critiques of discovery learning have questioned its efficacy, especially those which exhibit minimal instruction (e.g. Mayer, 2004; Kirschner et al., 2006).

  • Mayer (2004) and the ‘constructivist teaching fallacy’

  • Range of literature relating teachers’ approaches to teaching and the links between learning outcomes and teaching activities (e.g. Ramsden, 1992; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Biggs, 2003)

Potted highlights of my al experience
Potted highlights of my AL experience

  • As a student:

    • Non-plussed in the lab!

    • Too little time, too much activity?

  • As a teacher:

    • Reinventing my own experience

    • COZIP – AL is ‘learning by doing’....what evidence did we have?

The project methodology
The Project Methodology

  • The initial questionnaire

    • Longevity of and confidence in use

    • Examples of practice

    • Locus of support

    • Definition of AL

  • Follow up interviews

    • SQUIN (Wengraf, 2001)

    • Gestalt questioning methodology (Holloway & Jefferson, 2000)

Initial thoughts
Initial thoughts

  • We found three ‘families’ of conceptions


  • The physicality of ‘doing’

  • Methods/Modes of activity

  • Communication with each other

  • Sense of ‘practice’


  • Cognitive processing

  • Reflection

  • Increasing maturity

  • Taking responsibility


  • Meld these internal and external worlds.

  • Engagement

  • Development

  • Creativity

  • Investigation.

  • With a partner, try and sort your own definitions into these groups and return them to the front

Testing the models
Testing the models




Testing the models1
Testing the models




Some tentative conclusions
Some tentative conclusions

  • All respondents identified conceptions that suggest that they believe student passivity does not promote learning.

  • Ongoing debate about what this passive/active dimension looks like in class. Different teachers view student activity differently.

  • This does not help us form a concrete definition of AL, except to say that it is clearer to define what it is not, rather than what it is!

  • So do our students have a clue what’s going on?

  • What good practice can be shared between teachers who see AL differently?

  • How do these two ‘worlds’ of doing and thinking meet? Is this fixed or do approaches vary in time and context?

Return to the text
Return to the text

To listen and yet it is easy to forget

To see/perceive and yet it is easy to remember/record

To be/act as and yet it is easy to understand

New insights
New insights?

  • Not just ‘doing’, but ‘being’

  • Sense of ‘embodiment’, and ‘thinking as’

  • No sense of first two lines being used negatively

  • The final character contains the ‘heart radical’ – mind and heart

Thoughts so far
Thoughts so far

  • We can identify a range of conceptions that teachers hold, concerning AL

  • By and large, an individual views AL as a complex mix of the physical and cognitive

  • It is not just ‘learning by doing’, and, in fact, it NEVER was!

  • The need to introduce practice that promotes self-reflection and internalisation of learning

“One's action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on..”

D. H. Lawrence