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Explore Instructional Methods

Before you consider instructional methods, it may be useful to consider your theoretical framework for teaching. Many educators leverage a blend of methods that align with their epistemological framework across instruction. Though no method is innately "good" or "bad," there are methods that tend to have a higher impact on learner engagement and learning. Fink (2016) and others have written about high-impact methods, noting they often include: 

  • learner-centered design, 
  • opportunities for metacognition, 
  • effective small group use, 
  • community engagement with reflection, and/or 
  • effective role models/leaders as educators. 
Though a service-learning methodology, for instance, is more likely to promote productive small group work and meaningful community engagement, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's more effective or executed more effectively than an interactive lecture methodology. Below are some classroom methodologies in practice at CMU, though this list is far from exhaustive.  If you'd like a consultation on how to try these or other methods in your class, schedule a time with CIS staff to discuss your teaching methodology and related strategies.

  • Active Learning is a blanket term referring to thousands of strategies designed to increase engagement. These include low-stakes strategies like pausing for clarification up to more involved strategies such as problem-based learning (PBL) or classroom response systems (CRSs). Research generally supports the efficacy of active learning strategies, though impact varies widely based on context (Prince, 2004). 
  • Cooperative or Collaborative Learning includes approaches in which groups work together to complete tasks, solve problems, or create products, reaping collective benefits (Johnson & Johnson, 2009). Strategies range from one-time activities such as "jigsaw" discussions to ongoing processes such as formalized team-based learning (TBL). 
  • Experiential or Service Learning (SL) refers to participation in authentic or semi-authentic experiences as opposed to traditional classroom learning. It often incorporates emotional investment along with reflection and can be effective for a range of audiences (Cantor, 1995). SL is also a designation from the University identifying course sections that combine social, active, experiential, and problem-based methods to foster deeper understanding of course concepts and potential applications. 
  • Game-Based Learning (GBL) includes immersive experiences often incorporating the scaffolding of progressive achievements, competitive elements, and/or developing storylines. GBL has been tied to achievement and to the development of new literacies (Marcon, 2013). A related term, gamification, typically refers to the inclusion of some game elements in a non-game setting. 
  • Inquiry-Based Learning is a constructivist activity in which learners begin with questions, researching related data and solutions to deepen understanding. This approach can enhance academic achievement and moderate achievement gaps (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn, 2007). 
  • Lectures can be more educator-centered and transmissive or more interactive, incorporating a great deal of participation. When using lectures, we propose transitions at least every 15 minutes to re-engage learners (Bunce, Flens, & Neiles, 2010). 
  • Quantitative Reasoning (QR) – This designation from the University identifies courses that are committed to enhancing learners' mathematical ability by using quantitative processes to organize content and address everyday problems. 
  • Understanding Flipped Learning introduces a model of blended learning in which content delivery is provided outside of class (often online) and application activities are the focus of in-class time. Some benefits are a focus on communications and a requirement for accountability (Rotellar & Cain, 2016). 
  • Using Synchronous Sessions – Synchronous collaboration platforms allow users to communicate and collaborate with others in “real-time,” typically via video, text, and audio transmissions. Such interfaces are often used for web meetings and bi-modal settings when facilitators teach two audiences at once.  
  • Writing Discussion (Board) Questions – Here, we provide an overview of the educational value and logistical structure of Discussion Board Questions to facilitate engagement and dialogue with and between your remote, face-to-face, and HyFlex students both using and independent of a structured “Discussion Board” forum. 
  • Writing Intensive (WI) – This designation from the University identifies courses that are committed to enhancing learners' writing ability by using a reflective writing process to organize and effectively process course content.


References and Resources

Bunce, D. M., Flens, E. A., & Neiles, K. Y. (2010). How long can students pay attention in class? A study of student attention decline using clickers. Journal of Chemical Education87(12), 1438-1443.  

Cantor, J.A. (1997). Experiential Learning in Higher Education: Linking Classroom and Community. ERIC Digest.  

Fink, L. D. (2016). Five High-Impact Teaching Practices: A list of possibilities. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching9, 3-18.  

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: a response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist42(2), 99-107. 

Johnson, D. W. & Jonson, R. T. (2009). An educational psychology success story: Social interdependence theory and cooperative learning. Educational Researcher38(5), 365-379.  

Marcon, N. (2013). 'Minecraft' as a powerful literacy prompt in the secondary English classroom. Idiom,  49(2), 35.  

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering  Education93(3), 223-231.  

Rotellar, C., & Cain, J. (2016). Research, perspectives, and recommendations on implementing the flipped classroom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 80(2), 34.