Implementing active learning is a fantastic way to liven up discussions and encourage higher-level thinking. But what does active learning look like in practice? Shawn Orr, Manager of Faculty Training & Engagement at Cengage Learning and Adjunct Instructor at Adrian College, recently led a webinar on this very topic, in which she shared strategies she uses to get her students enthusiastically participating. The following is an excerpt from that webinar:

What can I do so that my students are actively involved, so they are learning and retaining? I look at the classes that I taught 22 years ago and I thought “Man, if I can pair my knowledge of the subject today, 22 years later, to what I knew then—I can’t believe how much more I know.” Certainly, that should be the way it is. Not only is new information coming in, but I’m teaching it. I’m learning and retaining and coming up with new ways to apply it every day. That is ultimately the goal. That’s what we’re looking at.

We’re going to look at 7 Icebreakers and 11 Active Learning Strategies to really engage your students in the classroom. My goal for you is that you walk away with one or two. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you see the things that I’m doing and I’m using, just pick one or two that will really resonate with your students and would really make a difference. Or pick one lecture that you’re saying “I know this is the lecture that my students really struggle with or it causes them boredom” and find one activity that you can use in there.

Icebreakers are any tool that we use to facilitate interaction, stimulate creative thinking and introduce new concepts and material. Usually when we think of icebreakers, we think of them as social ways to build connection. But, icebreakers are so much more than that. They also can be educational and topical. A way that we can introduce new content, we can help make ideas relevant, and help students think in the way that we need to that day. If I know I need my students to think creatively, I might start out my course with an icebreaker where they have to engage in a lot of creative thinking. Even something as easy as a Sudoku puzzle up on the Smartboard when they walk in. They start to think creatively and critically as we move into the content.

Active learning is any activity that gets students involved in the learning process with the goal of them constructing meaning. When they construct meaning, when they draw conclusions, when they collaborate with their peers, they will learn and retain the information.

To learn more (and to hear about Shawn’s icebreakers and active learning strategies), access the webinar recording, part of the Striving for Excellence* series.

*The Striving for Excellence Series a collaboration between Cengage Learning and the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), a membership organization committed to promoting and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership at community and technical colleges. Recognizing the growing need for adjunct support, Cengage Learning and NISOD are partnering to co-host a series of webinars, podcasts, and blog posts covering professional development topics for adjunct faculty and administrators. To learn more about this partnership, visit http://www.nisod.org/cengage.