Proposal for RCA summer conference

Nancy Jackson PhD
Clemson University

Using Bloom's taxonomy and learning objectives, participants will learn why active learning may increase student learning and a five-step model will be presented for choosing and facilitating learning activities appropriate for communication studies courses. In the workshop, participants will experience several different activities and discuss how the activities might be used in their classrooms. Emphasis will be on large group discussions, small group activities, role-plays, group presentations, and media. Resources for other activities will be provided.

It has been said that we learn little of what we hear, little of what we see, and most of what we do. Active learning gets the student actively involved in their own learning so that they learn more than they would through reading, listening or memorizing. Active learning principles work in all disciplines, but seem especially suitable to communication, since active learning provides a workshop or microcosm of the communication principles as they are taught. In active learning, the emphasis is on student learning, rather than the "wisdom" of the teacher. The role reversal of teacher as listener and the student as the focus of the class can be difficult for some yet actually requires equal or greater skill on the part of the teacher (Millis, 1998).

A variety of activities are included under the umbrella of active learning. Anything but lecturing, student reading or writing is usually considered active learning. Activities may include problem solving, learning games, small group discussions, role-plays, group presentations or even lively classroom discussions. In this workshop we will discuss five activities: large group discussions, small group activities, role-plays, group presentations, and media (Grasha, 2000).

There are five steps that the teacher needs to take to prepare for any activity. 1) Decide on learning objectives, 2). Choose appropriate learning activity, 3). Design the activity, 4). Try it out, and 5). evaluate the activity. A short summary follows:

Step one: decide what you want the students to learn in terms of content and depth. What are the learning objectives? It is important to use an activity that is appropriate for memorization, problem solving, critical thinking, or analysis. Bloom's taxonomy (1956) is an important tool to use in looking at the levels of student learning, and can guide the selection of appropriate activities. (A copy of the taxonomy will be included in the workshop resource packet).

Step two: select the activity. The teacher decides the criteria for selection of the activity. An activity needs time, resources, and the appropriate developmental level of the group. Creating an activity can consume time and resources. There are many activities supplied in the author's editions of textbooks; however they may need to be tailored for a non-American classroom. Additionally, the teacher needs to consider the resources that are available. For this workshop, we will discuss large group discussions, small group discussions, role-plays, group presentations, and media. The workshop will go into detail highlighting some of the best uses of each activity, and resources for those activities and others.

Step three: design the activity. Each activity is designed to fit the appropriate learning objective and each kind of activity has characteristics that make it particularly useful for a particular objective. For example, large group discussions are useful when there is an issue in which the whole class needs to be involved. On the other hand, small group discussions can be effective to ensure that every student has an opportunity to share. Small groups can be given assignments such as case studies, problems to solve, or tasks to complete. Role-plays can be effective in that students get involved with the topic and in-depth understanding. Group presentations are a way for students to research and present material. Finally, media use includes everything from watching a film to using the Internet. Depending on the learning objective and resources, the teacher would choose how much of a film to use, ask students to create web pages, put material on power point slides, or a teacher might set up email exchanges with students from another country. In the workshop, the participants will engage in activities that highlight the uses of each kind of activity, as well as an annotated list of other activities.

Step four: try it out. After careful preparation, try the activity and note how long it takes, what parts work, and what students seem to learn.

Step five: evaluate the activity. Every time the teacher uses an activity, there is something learned in the process. Some activities work with one group, and not another. It is useful to evaluate the activity, and decide to keep it, modify it, or discard it. Sometimes the teacher may gain insight into the class by asking the students for their opinions about the activity.

As the teacher becomes more comfortable with active learning, they will be able to develop their own activities that fit particular learning outcomes and classes. The workshop will incorporate active learning to demonstrate the material. In that way, there will be opportunities for the teachers to understand how a student might learn, and how it might feel to be a student in an active classroom.

Sources used:

    Bloom, B.S. (1956). The process of learning. (2nd ed). Sydney:Prentice-Hall.

    Bonwell, C C. & Eison, J. (1991)Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report. Washington, D.C.: 1991.

    Brookfield, S. D, & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

    Campbell, W. E. & Smith, K. (1995) New Paradigms for College Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

    Grasha,A. (2000). Teaching with Style. Pittsburgh:Alliance Publishers.

    Johnson, D., Johnson, R. & Smith, K. (1991). Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.

    Millis, B. J. & Cottell, P. (1998) Cooperative learning for higher education. American Council for Education. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx press.

    Silberman, M. (1992) Twenty Active Training Programs. San Diego:Pfeiffer.

    Zander, A. (1994) Making groups effective. (2nd Ed.) San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

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