I think of teaching strategies in much the same way. It’s easy to fall into routines and patterns in setting up a class. You find what seems to work that engages the students and you go to it again and again. This is only natural, and in many ways, it makes sense to “go with what works.” There are two potential challenges with this, though. It can become stale for you and the students. Even engaging learning experiences, when used too often, can lose their appeal. When you add to this the need to appeal to diverse learners in the classroom, it can be very helpful to vary the teaching strategies and learning activities you employ in your classes.
Getting the lay of the land in higher education pedagogy
For the last several years, I have worked with my colleague, Judi Harris, and a range of content experts to develop comprehensive taxonomies of learning activities in nine different curriculum areas (e.g., Mathematics, Science, K-6 Literacy) that can serve as instructional planning aids for K-12 teachers. These taxonomies, along with a number of publications and presentations related to this work are available on the Learning Activity Types Web site. Through my involvement with faculty development in the Technology Enriched Instruction project, I wondered whether similar resources were available for college and university faculty.
Like any academic worth his salt, I began to comb through our library databases and pulled every book on higher education pedagogy off the shelves to see if I could find similar work in college and university teaching. While I encountered some fantastic books, articles, and blog posts on a wide range of pedagogical strategies, I didn’t come across what I saw as a comprehensive collection of learning activities for faculty. I then systematically began to note, track and organize the learning activities I found across all these sources.
My draft working version of the taxonomy includes twenty different learning activities, many of which are broad (e.g., discussion) and have many different ways to implement them in teaching. This is still definitely a work in progress. I have shared it with some colleagues and will also be presenting this work at two upcoming conferences on teaching and learning this Spring. I’m eager to hear the reactions and insights of my colleagues.
Purpose and structure of the taxonomy
Like with the series of learning activity types taxonomies we developed for K-12 teachers, I hope that this first draft of a collection for teachers will assist us all in designing learning experiences in ways that meet the needs of a range of students and help us to keep things fresh for our own sake, as well. In our research with K-12 teachers, they report that the use of this kind of taxonomy helps them to be more deliberate and strategic with their choice of strategies and to enhance the engagement of students with course content.
To make it easier to navigate the taxonomy and enable users to find what they are looking for quickly, I’ve arranged them according to the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Each learning activity is categorized by the relative level of cognitive activity required of students (i.e., remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create). Due to the focus on levels of student learning outcomes reflected in Bloom’s taxonomy, the activities are framed from the student perspective. Finally, because my academic discipline is educational technology, I have also provided suggested educational technologies that can uniquely support each learning activity.
Invitation for feedback
I see this as a work in progress that will likely change and develop over time. I wanted to begin sharing the work, however, to encourage others to provide their feedback and contributions to the work. On this blog, I will be introducing the learning activity types one at a time, with a description, rationale for use, examples and variations, along with technology tools and resources that can serve to support each learning activity. As I introduce the learning activities, I hope that you will share examples of ways you have implemented them in your teaching or reference blog posts or articles with good additional examples. I look forward to building this taxonomy and collection of learning activities together over the next several weeks.
Please post your comments below.