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ACTIVE LEARNING at GCC

Low Standards with High Risks

THE PROBLEM: The Traditional Learning Model

Low Standards with High Risks

Many experts in education are reaching the conclusion that the “traditional” educational environment is antiquated.


Low Standards: Listening to non-interactive lectures, memorizing information, taking multiple-choice tests, or writing paint-by-numbers essays often does not equate to an effective ability to apply that information to the “real world.”

- Guest lecturer Dr. Michael Wesch, Coffman Chair for University Distinguished Teaching Scholars and Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Digital Ethnography, illustrates in his November 15 lecture “The End of Wonder in the Age of Whatever” at Glendale Community College, that students are often just “playing the game for the grade”.

      a. Students complete 49% of assigned readings;

      b. 26% of these readings are relevant to their lives;

      c. Wesch equates this to a 74% failure rate for all students.

- From the book Academically Adrift, written by Richard Arum with Josipa Roksa, which examines the current state of higher education in the United States, it is clear that students are just going through the motions:

      a. After 2 years of college/university:

            - 45% of students show no critical thinking improvement

      b. After 4 years of college/university:

            - 36% of students show no critical thinking improvement

Wesch concludes with these findings that students are just going through the motions, and therefore, traditional higher education environments are failing the students who literally fail as well as those who do very well.


High Risks: Often evaluation of student performance comes down to a student’s execution on 3 or 4 tests or only a handful of essays throughout a semester, and therefore, a student is never given the freedom or opportunity to try something new, exciting, or different… and succeed even through failure.

High Standards with Low Risks

THE SOLUTION: The Active Learning Model

High Standards with Low Risks

Due to evidence that the Traditional Learning model is not preparing our students properly, aActive lLearning is a new andn alternative approach that turns the traditional “acquiring knowledge” approach method into one where students “apply knowledge” through experiential, project-based, and cooperative learning, etc. 


High Standards: Moving away from traditional educational environments with lecture based classes and entering into aActive lLearning environments creates an environment where students and faculty alike feel more inspired because they have the freedom to engage in alternative ways of learning, and this in turn allows them to set higher standards for themselves.

- In the ASHEERIC Higher Education Report No. 1, authors C.C. Bonwell and J.A. Eison conclude in their article “Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom,” that active learning leads to better student attitudes and improvements in students’ thinking and writing.

- In their article “Using the Pause Procedure to Enhance Lecture Recall” published in Teacher Education and Special Education, authors K. Ruhl, C. Hughes, and P. Schloss did a study involving 72 students over two courses in each of two semesters in which one 45-minute course was interrupted with three 2-minute breaks where students worked in pairs to clarify notes. The other course was taught without breaks. Test scores with the pause procedure were 89.4 compared to 80.9 without pauses.

- In a study published in the American Journal of Physics titled “Interactive-Engagement vs. Traditional Methods: A Six-Thousand-Student Survey of Mechanics Test Data for Introductory Physics Courses,” R. Hake examined pre- and post-test date for over 6,000 students in introductory physics courses and found significantly improved performance for students in classes with substantial use of interactive-engagement methods.

- Dr. Michael Prince, Department of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University, concludes in his article “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research” in the Journal of Engineering Education, that “cooperative learning is more effective than competition for promoting a range of positive learning outcomes.” These results include:

            a. Increased academic achievement

            b. Improved attitudinal outcomes

            c. Enhanced interpersonal skills

- Authors D. Vernon and R. Blake illustrate in their article “Does Problem-Based Learning Work? A Meta-Analysis of Evaluative Research” in Academic Medicine, that project-based learning (PBL) produces positive student attitudes. They looked at 35 studies from 1970 – 1992 for medical programs and concluded that PBL produced a significant effective size (0.55) for improved student attitudes and opinions about their programs.


Low Risks: By stepping aside as the lecturer and allowing students to learn from each other, we give students the tools to grow their own knowledge. Instead of just dictating knowledge to students, active learning allows students to use those tools, apply them to try to accomplish something (maybe a project-based assignment, for example); and even if they fail with the “high standard” of the project, they still learn from the active experience.

It’s this educational and active experience that allows a student to try something – and fail – but still achieve success through the experience, which ultimately equates to better and more fulfilling knowledge and learning.

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