Active Learning

It's the beginning of the semester, and classes are starting to meet. Everyone is coming back and putting a nice amount of life into the campus. It's a great beginning, as beginnings always are.

I went to a workshop on teaching. I'm a sucker for these workshops, i go to most every one. I'm not sure why. One of the reasons is that I like to hear what all the other professors have to say and what they consider to be a problem in their classroom, or teaching, or what have you.

This workshop the conversation mostly centered around the idea of active learning. In what ways can a class be made active? It seems to be necessary that students are directly engaged in their own education as participants, not observers, or as co-creators of their learning instead of just receivers of information from the professor.

So what could be more "active learning" than debate? It's hard to imagine something that would be more of an active learning experience than participating in debate. Even one or two really flips the traditional course around. The most exciting "active learning" aspect of debate is that the power roles are reversed and sometimes eliminated in the classroom. That is, the students are speaking more than the professor, and they are often speaking to the end of converting/convincing the other students. This is quite dangerous if you assume the point of the University is to authorize particular ways of knowing, particular knowlege, and particular ways of being in relation to knowledge (i.e. "you are not an expert").

Here are some questions to consider:

What is the role of the professor during an in class debate? Should they be the judge? Another voice after the debate giving commentary? Should they participate in the debate?

Who should generate the motions? Students? Other faculty? Should the motion be generated as a collective?

Should these debates happen in the classroom or for a wider public? Who should be invited? Should the class work toward the crafting of debate experiences outside of the course? Is that proper? Is that a form of assessing debate learning?

What is the content that would be assessed in a debate? What does debate teach? If we assume essay writing teaches good communication skills on paper, and public speaking teaches good oral communication skills, what is being taught via debating?

Should debates in class be assigned win and loss values? To what end should that decision be made?

General Active Learning Questions:

How active is too active? Do you encourage students to participate in the construction of the parameters of the course? Do you allow an "open source" course where students can rework the syllabus? 

Can students, or should they, consider designing the rubric and participating in their own grading a necessary part of "active learning?"

How does attendance play into active learning? Should that requirement be dispensed with in order to generate a more active learning classroom?

Should students be allowed to take over the teaching roles and relegate the professor into a more passive role in the "active learning" classroom?

Is it ethical for the professor to perform the role of a foil "tyrant" in order to spark resistance and conflict with students to force them in the  mode of "active learning?" Is it ok for a professor to lie during instruction, or about course content, to spark a critical response from the students? (i.e. the professor delivers misinformation in the hopes that the students catch it via having done the readings and then challenge the professor's position).

What does an examination look like in the active learning philosophy?