What we can learn from a day at the amusement park for our instructional planning
We can learn a lot from our experience at an amusement park in planning instruction for a class session or course. Just as we consider the possibilities available at the park, we have a number of options for teaching and learning activities. We need to be strategic in selecting and sequencing them for class sessions to create powerful learning experiences for our students.
One challenge we have as instructors considering teaching and learning options is to recognize the full range of the options we have. After all, it's easy (and only natural) to fall into ruts where we default to a small subset of the possibilities in our teaching. This is a big part of the reason that I developed the Higher Education Learning Activity Taxonomy (HELAT). The current version of the taxonomy includes 20 different learning activities you can consider in your planning.
You may be thinking that it's nice to have all these options, but wonder how to select, sequence and combine them into learning experiences for your students. While it's critical to begin by considering the big ideas in your course, build from your learning goals, and factor in students' needs and preferences, you may still be looking for some guidance in the process. Below I share three different strategies that you can use to build your teaching from the HELAT.
Build around cognitive levels
One effective and time-tested approach to selecting learning activities is to select appropriate activities based in part on the cognitive level of the targeted learning goal(s) using Bloom's Taxonomy. Developed originally in the 1950's, the revised version of the taxonomy offers a framework to consider the cognitive level of different learning tasks in the following categories:
Leverage content learning to build 21st century skills
Another strategy for selecting learning activities is to consider what skills you would like students to develop as they learn. A great framework to consider these kinds of skills is the 21st Century Learning Design framework. The framework includes the following six skills:
- knowledge construction
- real-world problem-solving and innovation
- use of ICT for learning
- skilled communication
Assessment for learning
For many faculty, assessments may equate to quizzes, tests, and term papers. We may have a tendency to think of learning activities and assessments as two different things. In reality, many learning activities can be used as formative or summative assessments of student learning. The key advantage to considering assessments more broadly is that you can vary the options for students to express their understanding – an important component of Universal Design for Learning.
The HELAT includes a number of learning activities that can serve as formative (e.g., write/respond, compare/constrast) and summative assessments (e.g., develop a model, perform an experiment/procedure). When you view them in this light, you can combine these assessment activities with activities that are more focused on helping students build their knowledge. If you can combine a range of these assessments over the course of a semester-long class, you'll have great insight into student learning beyond the more typical approaches to summative assessment.
What do you consider when selecting and combining learning activities in your planning?
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