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InfoGuides | Pepperdine Libraries

Digital Learning Lab: Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan ( tells us this:

"Active learning is a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. Cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and the use of case methods and simulations are some approaches that promote active learning."

For more ideas for incorporating Active Learning into your one-shot instruction, check out this Active Learning Continuum from their website.

Active Learning Activity Example: Develop a Research Plan

This activity is designed for use in the Digital Learning Lab at Payson Library, the main library at Pepperdine University. This activity will take at least 30 minutes.

Step 1: Lead a discussion on how to begin a research paper assignment with an open topic (i.e., the students must choose the topic). Generate ideas for a few minutes, and then steer the discussion toward formulating a research question from something that starts really general (History of Great Britain, Abortion, Death Penalty, Video Games, Gay Marriage) to something specific. I like to use video games as an example.

Step 2: Once you and the class have come up with a research question, write it on the white board or display it on the screens. It might go something like this: What is the relationship between aggressive behavior and playing video games?

Step 3: Ask students to identify keywords in the research question and underline them, explaining how they'll use these to search library databases. Then ask students to brainstorm more keywords related to the ones they underlined. Write these on the board around the research question.

Step 4: Show students how to get to the databases they need in the course InfoGuide.

Step 5: Ask students at each table to perform a different search task, warning them that they'll need to demonstrate their search at the end of the activity. Give each table a different task to demonstrate. (It might be good to have each group do ALL the tasks.) Here's one way to do it:

   Table One: Find a book on this topic in the Library Catalog

   Table Two: Find a peer reviewed article on this topic in Academic Search Complete

   Table Three: Find a peer reviewed article on this topic using Google Scholar

   Table Four: Find an article on this topic in Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Step 6: Circulate around the room and help out.

Step 7: Ask a student in each group to demonstrate their tasks using the table functionality (see the Managing Screens tab for directions on how to do that) and discuss along the way concepts like controlled vocabularies and subject headings.

Step 8: Circulate a worksheet or hold a class discussion so that students must reflect on how each database is different. Consider following up with an activity on distinguishing between scholarly and popular sources.

ACRL Standards and Learning Outcomes

The activity above aims to teach Standard Two of ACRL's Information Literacy Competence Standards:

The information literate student constructs and implements effectively-designed search strategies.

The goal is for students to achieve the following outcomes under that standard:

  1. Develop a research plan appropriate to the investigative method
  2. Identify keywords, synonyms and related terms for the information needed
  3. Construct a search strategy using appropriate commands for the information retrieval system selected (e.g., Boolean operators, truncation, and proximity for search engines; internal organizers such as indexes for books)
  4. Implement the search strategy in various information retrieval systems using different user interfaces and search engines, with different command languages, protocols, and search parameters

Active Learning Techniques for One-Shot Instruction

These ideas come from Chapter 4 of The One-Shot Library Instruction Survival Guide by Heidi E. Buchanan & Beth A. McDonough.

The One-Minute Paper -- Ask students to free-write for one minute with a simple question-based prompt. Reassure students that both their positive and negative responses are valid and should be included. Then ask students to share what they wrote, and facilitate a discussion on what library services they might use to be successful.

Example: Think back to your most recent experience writing a research paper for a class. How did it go? What went well? What didn't go well?

Example: What did you learn in today's library session?

Fishbowl -- A student or pair of students models an activity while the rest of the class observes, analyzes, and discusses what they see.

Example: Ask a small group to demonstrate a search process for the rest of the class. Give the group uninterrupted time to demonstrate the search, and then ask the rest of the class to offer constructive suggestions on their search strategy. Interject your own bits of wisdom into the discussion while praising students for their contributions.

Think-Pair-Share -- 1) Students free-write in response to a prompt for two to three minutes. 2) In pairs, students discuss the prompt for five or six minutes. 3) Students share their ideas with the whole class.

Example: Use this activity to help students generate ideas for topics. Prompt: What topic or topics interest you? Why are you interested? What do you hope to learn? When students get to step 3, write their topic ideas on the board and use them for example searches. (To mix things up, you could have each student introduce their partner's topic instead of their own.)

Gallery Walk -- The instructor gives students a prompt or series of prompts and then asks them to write or draw a response. The students then post their responses on a wall, creating a gallery. Students then walk around to view and comment on the responses using sticky notes or stickers.

Example: Invite students to help set the agenda for the session. Give the students a few examples of what they could learn (narrowing your topic, evaluating sources, website evaluation, etc.) and then ask them to anonymously post the topic they're most interested in. Last, give each student three sticky notes and ask them to vote for the three topics they'd like to learn about that day.

Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers -- These help students visualize relationships between processes and break down them down into steps.

Example: Use a KWL (know/want to know/learned) graphic organizer. This graphic allows the instructor to see at a glance where a student is with his or her topic. (A quick Google Images search will yield many examples of KWL graphic organizers.)

1) At the start of the class, ask students to use a KWL graphic organizer to write down what they know in the appropriate space or column of the KWL.

2) Ask them to write about what they want to know in the appropriate space or column of the KWL.

3) Allow students time to search for needed information, using a research guide or other resources gathered together. Ask them to make notes about what they learned in the appropriate section of the KWL.

4) As they work, walk around the room, answer questions, and look at the KWLs. If it appears a student is struggling, use the KWL to find out more about the student's approach and identify ways to help her.