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Tips for success

  • There is a need to fully brief/prepare Level 1 students who at secondary level have mainly experienced a highly structured, didactic style of teaching and are accustomed to taking a more passive role in their learning.  For example, a lecture could be timetabled at the beginning of the module to introduce core concepts and vocabulary and to enable the tutor to explain the approach and its benefits: ‘The module is recognised as an important transition experience’ (Staff quote)

  • The time and effort to design and implement active learning sessions is front-loaded and small pilots are recommended to test and refine such an approach

  • Students should experience active/interactive learning and teaching when the stakes are low and summative assessment should come after they have been able to practise the required skill or output

  • Students should be reassured that there is often no ‘right answer’; this is especially true in design-related modules where there are often multiple correct pathways to choose

  • Ethical considerations should be addressed if ‘actors’ are used in simulations or role play scenarios and time should be built in to enable screening of students to take place, if this is required under legislation

  • Digital technologies can be used very effectively to support an interactive approach: QOL, VB scripting, blogs, Facebook, video, podcasts, Spotify, tumblr etc., but staff should also have a backup plan in case the technology fails on occasion

    Enablers and challenges

  • Staff support and development:  as more Schools introduce active/interactive teaching, staff will need to explore new approaches to designing modules and classroom activities, and to developing their own group facilitation skills. CED provides a variety of mechanisms through which Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in these areas can be delivered, e.g. online resources, centrally-organised and bespoke staff development courses and an annual conference. There are also a large number of external opportunities for actual and virtual CPD through national organisations such as the Higher Education Academy, Jisc and SEDA.  Staff should be encouraged to avail of these, perhaps with some funding being made available for attendance at national/international events.

  • Resources:  additional staffing resources may be needed to deliver active and interactive learning activities effectively. In some cases, studies, using interactive approaches with large student numbers, necessitated team teaching and/or the use of postgraduate teaching assistants or external tutors. Furthermore, several of the case studies include the use of very specific industry-relevant hardware and/or software, so this also has financial implications for the University in terms of the provision of equipment and appropriate licences or subscriptions.  

  • Timetabling: there may be scheduling constraints on the organisation of interactive sessions. For example in one innovative case study (‘Interacting with Patients’), a cohort of 260 medical students is given the opportunity to role play in a “simulated ward” environment which even includes audio of typical background noise.  Setting this up for groups of students takes significant time and has to be repeated over four consecutive weeks.  Delivering on consecutive days or sessions would make it much more time-efficient for staff to teach in this way.

  • Embedding across levels and programmes:  if active/interactive methods are implemented in Level 1, it will be important for Schools to build on this by embedding similarly challenging approaches into the later stages of the degree programme. This could be both encouraged and monitored through Module Reviews and Annual Programme Reviews (APR).  The APR theme for the 2013-14 academic year is “Innovation in assessment, teaching and learning”.  Since the same theme applies to the University’s Educational Enhancement Process (EEP), Schools undergoing EEP are expected to describe and reflect on the types of innovation they are introducing.

  • Teaching space: The case studies indicated that undertaking interactive teaching in traditional fixed-seating lecture theatres can be very challenging for staff who try to engage students in classroom activity in this constrained environment. The provision of more flexible teaching space that can be configured to suit a range of approaches will enable staff to try out more interactive methods.  Queen’s is currently investing in refurbishing teaching space in an effort to enhance the learning environment.  To provide teaching space conducive to interaction does present financial and practical challenges, especially in addressing the needs of large student cohorts.  For example, lecturing requires approximately 0.9–1.1 square meter per student whereas breakout space for group work typically requires 0.9–1.5 square meter per student.