The Division of Teaching and Learning at UCF promotes instructional strategies and classroom techniques that research has shown to improve student learning. Because instruction at UCF takes place in many formats, environments, and class sizes, there is no single most effective teaching method for all contexts; however, research does support a practical range of methods that can be adapted to the various circumstances in which we teach. The effective teacher will have developed a repertoire of evidence-based instructional strategies that can be adapted to the needs of learners as they progress toward learning goals, will be well-organized and a clear communicator, and will bring a passion to the learning environment.
Active Learning - A student-centered learning model that allows students to experiment with ideas, to develop concepts, and to integrate concepts into systems.
High-Impact Learning - Meaningful learning that occurs as a result of applied active-learning strategies in a course.
Active Learning Guidelines - discusses the benefits of active learning, as well as provides guidelines and sample activities that facilitate active learning.
World Café Discussion Method - a summary of the method developed by the World Café for hosting and mediating discussion in large groups.
Refer also to our Learning Evironments pages for strategies and techniques to implement active learning in various class sizes and modalities:
The next section provides discussion of various approaches to integrating active learning in a class through high-impact practices.
Direct instruction is a widely used and effective instructional strategy that is strongly supported by research. In direct instruction, the teacher
Direct instruction can be easily combined with other teaching methods and can be transferred to online teaching by using videos for the modeling stage and discussion groups for the guided practice stage. In the basic structure of a “flipped classroom,” the students first engage the content online (through readings, video lectures, or podcasts), then come to class for the guided practice. It requires explicit communication of learning objectives, procedures, roles, and assessment criteria. It requires a detailed curriculum design organized around scaffolding learning toward mastery. Some critics equate direct instruction with just lecturing; however, here the term is used as “directing” student learning. In direct instruction, the role of the teacher is similar to that of a coach.
Lecturing can provide many benefits to learners, such as telling a motivational story, providing an orientation, giving context, or making critical connections within and across domains, but it generally does not support strong learning gains because of its high forgetting curve. It can help students organize extensive readings, but it should not be used to simply duplicate those readings. Because learning results from what students do, lectures should be crafted so that students are intentionally active as much as is reasonable. The “I do, we do, you do” pattern described in “Direct Instruction” above provides an excellent format for making lectures more interactive. Additionally, there are hundreds of short classroom activities that can be easily built into a lecture. For a list of these, search the Faculty Center website for “Interactive Teaching.” Many instructors build their lectures around questions that students, individually or in small groups, can answer using colored flashcards or polling technologies like clickers or BYOD apps. The advantage to using polling technologies is their scalability, ease of providing collective feedback on student performance, and integration with the online gradebook for uploading participation or quiz points. Other interactive techniques involve short writing exercises, quick pairings or small group discussions, individual or collaborative problem solving, or drawing for understanding.
One of the primary purposes of discussion-based learning is to facilitate students’ meaningful transition into the extended conversation that is each academic discipline. Discussions allow students to practice applying their learning and developing their critical-thinking skills in real-time interactions with other viewpoints. Often, the challenge for the teacher is to get students to engage in discussions as opportunities to practice reasoning skills rather than simply exchanging opinions. One tip for addressing this challenge is to create a rubric for assessing the discussion and to assign certain students to act as evaluators who provide feedback at the end of the discussion. Students rotate into this role throughout the semester, which also benefits their development of metacognitive skills.
Another tip is to differentiate between more focused and structured discussions versus more open and flexible discussions. The goals of highly focused discussions include demonstrating basic knowledge and understanding, applying principles and rules to new problems, and analyzing examples or cases using established criteria. The goals of more open discussions include generating personal or creative connections to subject material, viewing subjects from broader and more diverse perspectives, synthesizing connections across domains, and reflecting on learning.
When introducing novices to discussion-based teaching, it is often necessary to provide handouts detailing goals and expectations, ground rules for participation and signaling cues, and examples for the ways your discipline uses evidence to support reasons and claims. Generally you want to provide an introduction to the activity by setting a context, repeating the goals for the discussion, and encouraging equal and respectful participation. If you need to break the ice to get discussion started, begin with a one-minute paper. Ask students to write a response to a question or prompt, have several students read their responses, and then encourage elaboration on a viewpoint. Be sure to schedule enough time after the discussion to hear from the students, debrief the experience, and transition to the next steps. Students will sometimes need a follow-up writing activity to “close the loop” in a way that reinforces the goals of the discussion.
Writing as a strategy for instruction focuses on understanding and remembering rather than demonstrating a holistic and detailed interpretation of the topic. It encourages critical thinking and creates thoughtful engagement with the subject, and it fosters effective communication. Using the instructional strategy of writing for learning, a teacher can emphasize low-stakes writing as a means to reinforce and encourage students’ mindfulness of the learning goals of a course. Research shows that when students are given frequent and structured opportunities to practice writing, they become more engaged with their learning, think more critically, and communicate more effectively. They are also better able to transfer knowledge and skills between courses and contexts. The writing can take place in class (e.g., a short, informal exercise at the start of a class meant to gather thoughts) or at home (e.g., freewriting in the form of a journal entry or brief exploratory reaction to homework, a discussion, or a topic in class). Such exercises need not be examples of good writing (in fact, they need not even necessarily be graded). Even if they lack cohesiveness or a strong argument, they nevertheless contribute to thoughtful reflection and may even serve later as the basis for a more thorough out-of-class response. As a method of reflection, informal writing is well suited to both in-person and online class modalities.
Inquiry-based learning encompasses a range of question-driven approaches that seek to increase students’ self-direction in their development of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. As students gain expertise, the instructor decreases guidance and direction and students take on greater responsibility for operations. One could place every instructional strategy on a continuum from teacher-directed (didactic) to student-directed (experiential) learning activities, with guided-inquiry occupying a range in the middle of those poles. Where direct instruction (see above) is a more deductive teaching method, guided inquiry is a more inductive method and therefore more like the “real world” with more variables and complexity. Variations of inquiry-based learning include the case method, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. Each of these variations begins with a real or realistic phenomenon and a question about the phenomenon that informs subsequent readings, fact finding, analysis, and dissemination of results. The effectiveness of this group of strategies relies heavily on students’ prior knowledge, skills, and motivation. Research shows that when students lack readiness and receive minimal guidance from the teacher, learning will suffer and students will report frustrations.
Effective teaching in this mode requires accurate assessment of prior knowledge and motivation to determine the scaffolding interventions needed to compensate for the increased cognitive demands on novices. This scaffolding can be provided by the instructor through worked scenarios, process worksheets, opportunities for learner-reflection, and consultations with individuals or small groups. Students are generally allowed to practice and fail with subsequent opportunities to revise and improve performance based on feedback from peers and/or the instructor. The assessment plan for inquiry-based learning generally includes a range of rubrics appropriately designed for providing constructive feedback on specific learning processes and products. As students make progress in their learning, they can be increasingly involved in the assessment process and the design of assessment instruments, which improves metacognition and is consistent with the educational theory that informs inquiry-based approaches.
Cases can be used for learning across the range of inquiry-based methods. When cases are more structured with known outcomes, they fall on the didactic side of the continuum, generally requiring students to recognize key patterns and apply known principles to arrive at correct conclusions. When cases are more open and uncertain, they simulate real-world situations and are more experiential, requiring students to weigh multiple strategies, combine strategies, and arrive at more tentative conclusions. The design of the learning activities, student-student interactions, learning products, and assessment instruments will be influenced by the scope and degree of uncertainty of the case. Case-based learning is used widely across many disciplines, and collections of validated cases are available online, often bundled with handouts, readings, assessments, and tips for the teacher. Cases range from scenarios that can be addressed in a single setting, sometimes within minutes, to sequential or iterative cases that require multiple settings and multiple learning activities to arrive at multiple valid outcomes. They can be taught in a one-to-many format using polling technologies or in small teams with group reports. Ideally, all cases should be debriefed in plenary discussion to help students synthesize their learning.
Often referred to as PBL, this method is similar to the case method except the intention is generally to keep the problem, the process, and the outcomes more ambiguous than is comfortable for students. PBL asks students to experience and struggle with radical uncertainty. The instructor creates an intentionally ill-structured problem and a deadline for a deliverable, assigns small groups (with or without defined roles), may offer some preparation, and resists giving clear, comfortable assessment guidance. Students must work together to better define the problem; brainstorm potential resources; assign duties, roles, and progress targets; perform and evaluate their research; synthesize their findings for a specific audience; present their findings; and then evaluate their own group’s performance of the entire process.
Within the range of inquiry-based methods, PBL is very much on the experiential side. It targets teaching goals that focus on discipline-specific processes and operations, creative problem solving, interdisciplinary connections, critical thinking, self-evaluation, and high-level communication. While students are generally on their own in this method, the instructor plays the roles of facilitator and consultant, hovering over the process to foresee and prevent disasters but otherwise only available to offer direction, usually by asking leading questions to get students to articulate their own answers. Novice students accustomed to success in rote learning activities or by receiving sufficient hand holding in more complex activities, will often resist PBL and believe that the instructor is not teaching, while more advanced students will express gratitude for the autonomy and respect afforded them and will rise to the opportunity to develop deeper learning structures. Effective learning in this method requires “dispositional” readiness in students: they need to have strong collaborative and cooperative skills, good organizational strategies, reliable research skills, good writing and speaking skills, and they need to see the value in this approach.
Project-based learning is similar to problem-based learning, and both can be referred to as PBL, but in project-based learning, the student comes up with the problem or question to research. Often, the project’s deliverable is a creative product, which can increase student engagement and long-term learning, but it can also result in the student investing more time and resources into creative production at the expense of the academic content. When assigning projects to groups that include novice students, the instructor should emphasize the need for equitable contributions to the assignment. Assessments should address differences in effort and allow students to contribute to the evaluations of their peers.
Game-based learning, whether in classrooms or online, can be highly effective because it encourages novel and intense student participation and is usually combined with adaptive practice. Game-based learning can be designed for almost any modality or environment. Successful game design involves creating a story arc, goals that are meaningful to students, frequent failure and reset points, multiple pathways to success, and a schema for recognizing progress and attainment. Games can be designed for traditional, small or large, face-to-face classes, fully online classes, or mixed mode classes, and they usually encourage competition. In role-playing games, students are presented with the context and the setup for the game. Then, they enact historical or fictional roles that are relevant to the subject, collaborate and compete to achieve performance goals that demonstrate learning, and, finally, participate in a structured reflection exercise, often referred to as a postmortem. Games can last from one class period to several weeks. Typically, students become highly engaged in the game, whether their task is to earn points through mastery learning, writing and presenting speeches, debating, or acting as judges for their peers. As virtual environments become more realistic and complex, instructors can design more convincing, immersive experiences and simulations for students. For low-technology gaming, a good resource for faculty is the program “Reacting to the Past” at Barnard College. For online learning, instructors may design several mini-games or just add game elements to their classes.
Known alternatively as collaborative learning, cooperative learning, team-based learning, and peer instruction, learning in groups is common practice across all levels of education. The value of learning in groups is well supported by research and is required in many disciplines. It has strong benefits for at-risk students, especially in STEM subjects. In more structured group assignments, students are often given roles that allow them to focus on specific tasks and then cycle through those roles in subsequent activities. Common classroom activities for groups include “write-pair-share,” fishbowl debates, case studies, problem solving, and the jigsaw. Implementing group learning activities does bring challenges to students and instructors and is not appropriate for every purpose and setting. When assigning group work in class, instructors can encourage students to stay on task by following up the group work with an individual activity that is dependent on the collaborative phase. As an example, the jigsaw supports learning in groups by creating two or more phases to the group work. Students shuffle into new groups after the first phase and each student reports out or teaches the new group in the second phase. When assigning work for outside of class, instructors should ensure equitable workload through peer assessments and prepare students for conflict resolution with a handout of instructions. Rubrics can be designed to assess both the product created by the group and the contributions of individuals toward the collaborative process.
Metacognition refers to students’ awareness of how they learn, think, apply prior learning, and navigate various learning environments. Metacognitive skills can and should be taught. They increase students’ ability to adapt learning to new contexts within a domain of knowledge. Students need to plan their learning tasks, record their practice, and evaluate their accomplishments. Instructors often assume that students have already acquired these skills in high school or general education; however, the nature and use of evidence, for instance, varies widely across different domains of knowledge and must be independently learned. Currently, there are few institutions that offer courses that explicitly address thinking and learning across the disciplines. To promote student metacognition, instructors use diagnostic assessments to reveal students’ prior knowledge, skills, and dispositions; process instruments to capture evidence of study methods and their effectiveness; retrospective post-assessments; and reflection journals in which students create a personal dialogue about their learning. A key practice for instructors is to make their teaching transparent, that is to share with students the curriculum map and how the course fits into it, the rationale for the goals and objectives of the course, the reasons for the choice of learning activities, and how the assessments provide evidence of their learning. Depending on the students’ development, many instructors involve students in designing some components of the course or giving them choices for accomplishing the learning objectives. This can also result in increased motivation. A good resource for instructors is Saundra McGuire’s book Teach Students How to Learn.
The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) has identified several teaching and learning practices that benefit students from different backgrounds, including historically underserved students who often do not have access to high-impact learning. UCF encourages faculty and student involvement in the following active learning practices. See https://www.aacu.org/leap/hips for further information and resources related to high-impact learning.
Many schools now build into the curriculum first-year seminars or other programs that bring small groups of students together with faculty or staff on a regular basis. The highest-quality first-year experiences place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and other skills that develop students’ intellectual and practical competencies. First-year seminars can also involve students with cutting-edge questions in scholarship and with faculty members’ own research.
First Year Experience (FYE) combines orientation with extended first year transition programs including UCF&rdsquo;s official Welcome Week (Pegasus Palooza), LINK, and the Strategies for Success (SLS) course. It assists entering freshmen and transfer students with their transition to UCF by providing information about student services, campus life, academic support, academic advising, and registration.
The Common Reading Program was re-established for UCF&rdsquo;s First Time in College (FTIC) students in Summer 2014. The intent of establishing a Common Reading Program is to engage FTIC students in a dialogue around a relevant topic while creating a sense of community amongst incoming students.
The older idea of a “core” curriculum has evolved into a variety of modern forms, such as a set of required common courses or a vertically organized general education program that includes advanced integrative studies and/or required participation in a learning community. These programs often combine broad themes—e.g., technology and society, global interdependence—with a variety of curricular and cocurricular options for students.
The mission of UCF’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), What’s Next: Integrative Learning for Professional and Civic Preparation, is to prepare our graduates to successfully enter and participate in the next steps of their professional and civic lives. What’s Next seeks to help students plan for their futures post-graduation: to not only set goals but to identify the knowledge and skills necessary to reach those goals. The initiative encourages students to connect their classroom knowledge and skills to real-world contexts and, thereby, to develop the ability to transfer knowledge and skills from one context to another. Finally, this initiative promotes opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences, to communicate their knowledge and experiences, and to develop the ability to successfully advocate for themselves in their lives beyond the university.
The key goals for learning communities are to encourage integration of learning across courses and to involve students with “big questions” that matter beyond the classroom. Students take two or more linked courses as a group and work closely with one another and with their professors. Many learning communities explore a common topic and/or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines. Some deliberately link “liberal arts” and “professional courses”; others feature service learning.
A Living Learning Community is a group of students placed together on a floor or within a building based on a common major, common interest, or common program affiliation.
These courses emphasize writing at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum, including final-year projects. Students are encouraged to produce and revise various forms of writing for different audiences in different disciplines. The effectiveness of this repeated practice “across the curriculum” has led to parallel efforts in such areas as quantitative reasoning, oral communication, information literacy, and, on some campuses, ethical inquiry.
This rule requires all students to complete at least four writing-intensive courses (twelve credit hours).
Writing Across the Curriculum is a program at UCF that assists faculty in creation and implementation of effective approaches to writing instruction in their discipline. The WAC program collaborates with faculty from all departments and disciplines to create customized projects that meet the needs of their departments and their students.
Collaborative learning combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences. Approaches range from study groups within a course, to team-based assignments and writing, to cooperative projects and research.
The FCTL offers workshops, web materials, and consultations on incorporating and assessing collaborative learning in courses.
Many colleges and universities are now providing research experiences for students in all disciplines. Undergraduate research, however, has been most prominently used in science disciplines. With strong support from the National Science Foundation and the research community, scientists are reshaping their courses to connect key concepts and questions with students’ early and active involvement in systematic investigation and research. The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.
Faculty play an integral role in the undergraduate research experience; they are the essential links between students and their research projects. As mentors, they provide guidance and encouragement to undergraduate researchers while nurturing the development of independent research skills and increased senses of self-confidence. At UCF, faculty mentors from a wide variety of disciplines work with students across campus on diverse research projects.
Many colleges and universities now emphasize courses and programs that help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own. These studies—which may address U.S. diversity, world cultures, or both—often explore “difficult differences” such as racial, ethnic, and gender inequality, or continuing struggles around the globe for human rights, freedom, and power. Frequently, intercultural studies are augmented by experiential learning in the community and/or by study abroad.
UCF recognizes that communities are comprised of, and enriched by, people of diverse backgrounds. The study of diversity is encouraged to promote an understanding of the needs of individuals, the University, and society. Thus, all students completing their first bachelor’s degree from UCF must complete at least one course that explores the diverse backgrounds and characteristics found among humans, including: race/ethnicity, gender, social class/caste, religion, age, sexual orientation, and level of physical ability.
ODI was established in 1994 to support the University of Central Florida’s 4th strategic goal, “to become more inclusive and diverse.” We strive to make diversity and inclusion visible and critical elements that indelibly permeate the life and values of the UCF community. We offer education, training and support services, facilitation of cross-campus collaboration, and enterprise-wide leadership to the campus and our community to build an inclusive culture for all students, faculty and staff.
In these programs, field-based “experiential learning” with community partners is an instructional strategy—and often a required part of the course. The idea is to give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community. A key element in these programs is the opportunity students have to both apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect in a classroom setting on their service experiences. These programs model the idea that giving something back to the community is an important college outcome, and that working with community partners is good preparation for citizenship, work, and life.
Service-learning is part of the UCF initiative to provide a means for every student to enhance their academic program with experiential learning opportunities. As a teaching method, service-learning enables students to take academics out of the classroom and into the community in an effort to promote civic engagement. By working with community partners such as non-profit organizations, public schools, government agencies, campus groups, or businesses with specifically philanthropic missions, students develop skills and knowledge that will help them to become civically responsible members of the community.
Internships are another increasingly common form of experiential learning. The idea is to provide students with direct experience in a work setting—usually related to their career interests—and to give them the benefit of supervision and coaching from professionals in the field. If the internship is taken for course credit, students complete a project or paper that is approved by a faculty member.
Experiential Learning faculty instruct co-op and internship courses, support faculty in the creation and development of internship and service-learning courses, provide best practices workshops, facilitate incentive funding approval processes against criteria, promote applied learning to students and maintain statistics on applied learning across campus. All of these options require the development and maintenance of relationships with industrial and community partners.
Whether they’re called “senior capstones” or some other name, these culminating experiences require students nearing the end of their college years to create a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they’ve learned. The project might be a research paper, a performance, a portfolio of “best work,” or an exhibit of artwork. Capstones are offered both in departmental programs and, increasingly, in general education as well.
Many UCF programs require cornerstone and/or capstone courses to fulfill degree requirements.
Kuh, George D. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U, 2008. PDF File.
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