6 Ways to Encourage Student “Buy-In” For Active Learning

While faculty have sound, research-based reasons for including active learning (see more posts about integrating active learning), changing the status quo by incorporating active learning requires clear communication about the rationale for these changes and your expectations for student participation.

There are many ways to encourage student buy-in for active-learning activities in the classroom. Here are six to get you started.

  1. Put active learning in the syllabus. You already use your syllabus as a way to orient students to the schedule, content, and grading practices of the course. The syllabus is also a great place to detail expectations for respectful interactions in class, including their participation in the active-learning activities you are incorporating. (See our sample syllabus here. And See tip #4 for more on participation.) Note that if you post your syllabus on a Learning Management System or send it via email, students will also come to the first day of class expecting active learning. Speaking of the first day of class…
  2. Include an active-learning activity on the first day, and on a consistent basis throughout the semester. The first day of class is your chance to create the kind of classroom environment you would like to persist throughout your weeks together. (See Tips for teaching on the first day.) By incorporating an active-learning activity on the first day, you will begin to train your students to expect to be active during class. As your students develop the habit of participating in active learning on a consistent basis, being active will become the new status quo for your class.
  3. Explain WHY you are using active learning in your class and how it aligns with the course goals. You may want to cite evidence from a research study that shows the benefits of active learning on student learning. (Freeman, et al., 2014 is an excellent example; see reference with link below). Talk to us at The Center for Teaching and Learning if you’d like assistance presenting the data on active learning! Letting students know that there is research behind the course content AND the methods by which you are asking them to learn is a great way to create incentives for student engagement.
  4. Give students credit for the process. If you plan to use active learning extensively in your class, you may want to grade your students on their participation. We highly recommend using a rubric to grade participation and to give students feedback on their participation at several occasions throughout the semester so that students can improve on their performance in these activities.
  5. Ensure that activities are the appropriate level of difficulty. Activities used in group work should be difficult enough to require the knowledge and effort of a group. If a problem is easy enough to be solved by one person, the students will not feel that the time spent solving it as a group was worth investing.
  6. Use student-generated ideas throughout the class. One technique that will enrich discussion and help students feel invested in the work they are doing is using the ideas and answers they generate during activities to connect ideas during discussion. You can also refer back to their ideas during future discussions or lectures. In order to do this easily, we recommend using the chalkboard, whiteboard, or document camera to write down their ideas during the follow-up portion of in-class activities.

Social Sciences – Psychological and Cognitive Sciences: Freeman, S., et. al. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS 2014 111 (23) 8410-8415; published ahead of print May 12, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1319030111