The modern classroom has evolved to become a much more interactive environment.  This entails moving away from the one-way communication technique of pure lecture, in favor alternative methods such as a ‘flipped’ classroom.  While this movement does not mean completely eliminating in class lectures, it does mean to incorporate an ever increasing amount of active learning techniques into our classroom time.  The goal is to better engage our students through individual and group activities that include worksheets, tangible manipulative exercises, and oral questioning and spontaneous polls that better convey the material in the classroom.  These methods are far more effective at relaying complex ideas and materials than the traditional lecture, and also result in a much better retention of the knowledge*.  These efforts are in alignment with the national initiative, overseen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), termed the “Vision and Change Initiative”.

To support this transition in the UMW Biology Department, we are creating a website through the Domain of One’s Own program that will provide information on active learning strategies, and will serve as a repository of active learning exercises for our faculty to use in their classroom.  In this venture, we have relied heavily on the faculty and staff of DTLT, CTE&I and DKC, who have all played an integral part in shaping the philosophy behind our ideas, and in constructing our website repository.

Currently, our website describes the motivation behind our transition to a more active learning environment, defines multiple established active pedagogical philosophies that we utilize, and contains sets of active learning exercises for our introductory biology courses.  

In the future, our website will be expanded to include a more comprehensive list of active learning pedagogy tools, and will also incorporate a greater variety of active learning exercises to be used throughout our curriculum.  Furthermore, the website may incorporate an open forum for faculty (within and beyond our department) to submit and retrieve active pedagogy exercises for their classroom, as well as a process for students to comment and provide feedback on individual activities and pedagogy tools.  Our hope is that this website will serve as a professional development tool for new faculty and a continuing education resource to introduce and extend the knowledge of our current faculty on the benefits of active learning.

Parrish Waters is an Assistant Professor with the UMW Biology Department, and teaches courses in Human Anatomy and Human Physiology.  He performs research with a team of UMW student from the Psychology and Biology Departments that answer questions related behavioral neuroscience, stress, and human mental disease.

* P. Armbruster, M. Patel, E. Johnson, M. Weiss (2009). Active Learning and Student-Centered Pedagogy Improve Student Attitudes and Performance in Introductory Biology, CBE-Life Sciences Education. 8; 203–213.

Image by Larry Olson licensed CC-BY 2.0