The teacher's fundamental task is to get students to engage in learning activities that are likely to result in achieving [the intended learning] outcomes. It is helpful to remember that what the student does is actually more important that what the teacher does. (Schuell, 1986, p.429)
Every learning activity in your unit should be intentional, meaningful and useful.
As noted on the Session Outcomes page, each learning activity in your unit should be aligned to the unit ILOs, as well as to the more specific learning outcomes of each session or module that you teach. The intent of the activity is then clear to both you and your students.
It is equally important that each activity is meaningful, and ensures student development and advancement through the unit. Activities should build on previous activities and avoid being repetitive, they should enable students to engage with and develop their skills, knowledge and understandings in different ways. Meaningful activities engage students in active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative ways.
Useful learning activities are ones where the student is able to take what they have learnt from engaging with the activity and use it in another context, or for another purpose. For example, students are able to directly apply the skills or knowledge they acquired to an assessment task, or to the next activity in your unit.
The activity types provided below are by no means an exhaustive list, but will help you in thinking through how best to design and deliver high impact learning experiences for your students in your unit.
Content Focus (and Interaction)
Whether the learning outcomes for a session or module include declarative or functioning knowledge, almost all of them will be supported in some way by the presentation of information to students.
Activities which involve student interaction with content can include listening to and/or watching a live or recorded talk, engaging with a written or visual text, engaging with multimedia, or a combination of these. Typically, students are more likely to retain information presented in these ways if they are asked to interact with the material in some way, which is why it is useful to ask or invite questions, or include another activity type after every 5 or 15 minute 'chunk' of information.
Example: Live Lecture (Online or On campus)
Provide information orally, supported by slides, in 4 to 7 minute blocks, interspersed with short interactions such as asking students to respond to a related question. For example, ask the students a question that requires them to apply, summarise, explain or identify etc. an important aspect of the information just presented. After asking the question, wait 10 to 15 seconds before asking for volunteers, or calling on a randomly selected student to respond. (It may be useful to provide a visual clue for students identifying that after posing the question you would like to them to consider a response and remain silent for the designated amount of time.)
After a student has responded to the question, call on another student to summarise the first student's response. Alternatively, if the first response was not completely accurate, invite the second student to respond to the first student's answer (e.g., "[name] what do you think about that - would you agree?").
This activity would be particularly relevant for supporting student progress towards learning outcomes with declarative knowledge.
Example: Assigned Reading/text
Provide students with access to a text (e.g., journal article, blog, multimedia presentation). Accompany the text with a number of questions which will help guide students' focus as they engage with the text. The questions could be provided for personal reflection, they could be addressed further in a subsequent synchronous session (online or on-campus), they could be presented in the form of an online quiz (weighted or unweighted) or survey, or they could be required as part of an asynchronous activity (online) among other options and possibilities.
The questions posed, and how students are asked to respond to them will be dependent upon what the ILOs require students to do. For example, a unit with an ILO that requires students to 'identify' might have questions that highlight the relevant aspects, or which require students to identify the key ideas in a reading. For a unit with an ILO for students to 'evaluate', however, the questions might ask student to list advantages and disadvantages, or to compare and contrast different approaches noted in the text(s).
Example: Multimedia Content in MyLO
Use a MyLO Content File (HTML) to pose one to four questions, in text. Ask students to record their responses in a linked, editable MyLO survey. Below the questions and the survey link, embed a short video (from YouTube, MyMedia, Vimeo etc) that contains information answering the posed questions. Ask students to return to their survey answers (with a link) and update them with the new knowledge they have.
The questions posed will be dependent upon the unit and module/session learning outcomes. For example, ILOs that require students to 'identify' might have questions that highlight the relevant aspects, or which require students to identify the key ideas in the video. For ILOs that require 'critical reflection', however, the questions might ask students to complete SWOT components, or to present perspectives from a variety of stakeholders, fo example.
Interactivity (with Others) Focus
The 'social presence' of a student in a unit has been found to correlate positively with both their achievement of learning outcomes, and their perception of the learning in a unit (Richardson & Swan, 2003). Peer relationships, informal support structures, and teacher-student interactions/relationships all contribute to a student's social presence in a unit. Therefore, including learning activities that foster open communication and group cohesion (as ways of fostering social presence) as well as providing opportunities for active learning are important in every unit.
Activities that focus on or include interaction with others can support student development of a range of learning outcomes, inclusive of declarative and functioning knowledge. All of these examples could be used in either online or on campus environments.
Example: Facilitated synchronous discussion
A set of questions are provided to students for consideration prior to a scheduled session. In small groups of 10-20, the teacher facilitates student sharing of responses to the questions, and building upon those responses. Further questions for consideration might be introduced during the session, aimed at furthering the thinking and analysis generated from the discussion.
N.B., Facilitating the sharing of responses is most effective when done skillfully. Therefore, it is likely that familiarising yourself with literature about this will enhance the learning of your students.
Example: Jigsaw collaborative information sharing
A cohesive set of information is separated into 4 or 5 smaller parts. For example, a written article separated by its paragraphs, a report separated by each section, a video separated into shorter clips. Students are organised into small groups, and each one is provided with one of the smaller parts of information. Students work together to understand the information they are provided with. They also discuss and rehearse how to share this knowledge with others who do not have the information. Then, new groups are formed, each being made up of a single student from each of the original groups. In these new groups, each 'expert' student shares their knowledge with the rest of the group who may ask questions to clarify meaning.
The teacher may then pose questions for the groups to answer, ask groups to complete a task that demonstrates their understanding, provide their own summary, or take questions from the groups to help solidify understandings.
Example: Group Assignments
Students are organised into smaller groups of three or four for the entire semester, a week, a fortnight... Each group has an assigned task, and each member an assigned role. (The organisation of groups, and assignment of roles can be managed either by the teacher or the students.) Discussion boards are provided for each of the assigned roles (e.g., project manager, schedule and records manager, presentation manager, researcher) so that these students can share ideas and check understandings with one another to then take back to their group). Opportunities are provided for each group to share their product with the rest of the class, through, for example, an in-class presentation (using web conferencing for online presentation), or a peer-assessment activity (facilitated online or in-class) where each group assesses one another's work using a rubric.
Activities that provide students with opportunities to think about or use knowledge and information in new and different ways will support their development of critical thinking skills - one of the main selling points of a university education. Often critical thinking activities can follow on from other learning activities, after students have received feedback from the initial activity.
Example: Response to an assigned text
Students are initially asked to identify the key ideas in an assigned text (written, audio, video), and share their understanding with a sub-set of the class (e.g., during an on campus (or online) 'tutorial', or on a discussion board). To extend this to a critical thinking activity, once the initial discussion on the content of the text is completed, students are then asked to critique the text based on a provided set of criteria. The criteria could focus on the validity of the assertions made, and their relevance and applicability to other topics covered in the unit and specified situations and scenarios. The critiques could be presented and discussed orally, or initially posted to a discussion board for further analysis and use in subsequent learning activities.
Example: Digital story development
Students (as individuals, pairs, or in groups) are provided with a scenario or case study which they must analyse. They prepare a 5 minute digital story that explains what the relevant issues are, including the stakeholders, the options, the impacts and consequences etc (as relevant to your discipline and context). These digital stories are shared on MyLO, and used in subsequent sessions for class analysis, for peer-feedback or assessment, for oral advocacy where the author(s) of the digital story respond to questions about the content, defending and explaining their reasoning, or for formal assessment and feedback from the teacher, among other uses.
Asking students to produce something can be an effective way of assisting them to engage with ideas and concepts at the level you wish them to. It can be a way of facilitating 'deep' learning. Worth noting here, is that with the ubiquitousness of technology and its capabilities now, the requirement of production being predominantly written no longer exists, with the range of possible forms of production ever increasing, bounded only by your imaginations.
When students are learning about processes or procedures; dealing with statistics, numbers, and dates; learning about complex ideas with interactions on different levels; or something similar, you can ask students to produce an infographic to explain, describe, and visualise this information. The production of the infographic can be worked on by students outside of scheduled sessions, and should be shared with the whole class through MyLO. The infographics could also be used as a starting point for further analyses and/or discussions.
Example: Oral summary (+ written summary)
Students are each given a specific aspect of a topic, and asked to create a 4 minute oral explanation of it. The oral explanation is then shared with the other members of the class, either as a recording shared online, or through a live presentation during a scheduled session. This can work well when all the participating students are then asked to write a short summary of each of the aspects explained. These written summaries are then also shared with the class online. In addition to providing students with an opportunity to learn more about the aspects, this also provides you the teacher with useful feedback about the aspects which students have not understood as well as needed. This then enables you to plan for additional learning activities that focus on the less well understood concepts.
Example: One minute paper
During a lecture, or within a module on MyLO, ask students to stop and spend one minute (and no longer) responding to a key question about the topic being covered. Students then pass in their writing to the teacher.
The one minute paper can be written on a piece of paper, but works particularly well on campus when students are asked to submit it through the survey tool in MyLO. This makes the collection and reading of the papers easier for you the teacher, and makes it easier to analyse the responses and respond to them in the following scheduled session.
Presenting students with a problem, scenario, case, challenge or design issue, which they are then asked to resolve, address, meet, or deal with provides students with a visible and clear reason for learning. If, in order to solve the problem, they are required to have knowledge, understandings and skills, that they don't currently have, they are likely to be motivated to gain them. The scale and extent of the problem, and the amount of scaffolding provided by you, the teacher, will need careful consideration and reference to the learning outcomes of the unit, module and/or session.
You may find John Savery's (2006) article Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions a valuable and useful read.
Students are provided with a scenario, and they then interact with people and/or machines who respond to their choices and actions as if in real life. After the simulation has ended, the student reflects on the consequences of their choices and actions, often in response to questions from their classmates or teacher(s).
Example: Case Study
Students, either individually or in groups, are provided with information about a person or organisation, and are assigned a role that is relevant to the case of the assigned person or organisation. The students must then analyse the case, and make recommendations to stakeholder(s), propose a solution, or present a design or plan related to the case.
What students are asked to do in relation to the case will depend on the discipline in which they are studying, and the unit's intended learning outcomes.
Example: Class Solution and Consequence
During a live lecture or tutorial, the teacher presents a scenario, and seeks responses from the class about possible approaches/responses to it. After collecting the responses (made verbally and recorded by the teacher, or sent using an audience response system such as MyLO surveys, clickers, or Lecture tools (which are currently in use across UTAS)), the teacher then asks for verbal responses about what the consequences might be for a selected answer. This continues as each of the main responses are analysed and the consequences considered.
Using effective questioning and discussion facilitation skills will enhance this sort of learning activity.
Reflection is an activity that supports the development of students' meta-cognition, that is, their understanding of how they think, learn, and understand. The process of reflection starts with the student thinking about what they already know and have experienced in relation to the topic being explored/learnt. This is followed by analysis of why the student thinks about the topic in the way they do, and what assumptions, attitudes and beliefs they have about, and bring to learning about the topic.
Stephen Brookfield has a number of useful publications about the use of reflection and reflective writing for learning and teaching which you may find useful, including: Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting (1987) ISBN 978-1-55542-055-0, and Teaching for Critical Thinking: Helping Students Question Their Assumptions (2011) ISBN 978-0-470-88934-3.
After students have completed a learning activity or assessment task, provide them with a set of criteria to use to assess the quality of their work. Ask students to write down a comment about the quality of their work (process or product). Then, ask students to think about why they achieved that level of quality, and whether they could do something differently in the future to achieve a different/higher level of quality. Students may be asked to make a record of this reflection.
Example: Reflection on Learning
After students have received feedback on an early assessment task or learning activity, ask them to use the DIEP model (Boud, 1985) to write a reflection about their experience of completing the task or participating in the activity. Ask students to use the reflective writing process to assist them to replicate approaches that worked well for them, and/or to avoid approaches that did not help them to learn and perform well.
This focus would be most appropriate for students who are in their first year of study at university, and especially for those in their first semester.
Example: Prior Understanding
Towards the start of a new topic or module, present to students the name of the topic, and/or some key words of relevance to the new module. Ask students to reflect on what they currently think about this topic, how they feel about it, and why this might be the case. Ask students to predict what they will learn about, how they feel about that, and how they expect to feel about the experience of learning about it.
This can be useful to go back to towards the end of the module or topic, to ask students to reflect on if and how their feelings and understandings have changed.
Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students' perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7(1), 68-88.
Schuell, T. J. (1986). Cognitive conceptions of learning. Review of Educational Research, 56, 411-436.