Studies show that students build a deeper understanding of a subject when they process or use new information as it’s presented.
That’s the goal of the active learning strategies being implemented this year in many Terry College of Business classrooms.
Active learning is a teaching style that guides students to find the information they need rather than being presented the material and tested on it. The goal is to create a deeper level of understanding in each course and foster critical thinking skills, said Henry Munneke, Terry College associate dean for undergraduate programs and the Roy Adams Dorsey Distinguished Chair in Real Estate.
This year, three seasoned Terry College instructors participated in the UGA Center for Teaching and Learning’s (CTL) Active Learning Summer Institute (ALSI). The three-week active learning boot camp helps faculty redesign their courses to incorporate evidence-based practices and engage students in the learning process.
“In an active learning class, students are actively engaged in thinking about and applying what they are learning,” said Munneke. “By training instructors in active learning techniques, we hope to engage students as active participants in the classroom — learning through the construction of knowledge rather than the absorption of knowledge.”
Tina Carpenter, an accounting professor and EY Fellow, Sarah Banghart, an accounting lecturer and Cali Brutz, a lecturer and associate director of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, were selected to participate in the multi-week program during summer 2022.
Brutz, who leads mostly small discussion-based courses on entrepreneurship, redesigned her “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” class during the program and learned plenty about the science of learning.
“I went into ALSI thinking that, by their nature, case discussion courses (such as Introduction to Entrepreneurship) already involved a great deal of active learning,” Brutz said. “What I came to understand is active learning encompasses so much more than just student participation. Active learning is a framework that (puts) student learning — and student awareness of their own learning — at the center of the course … I walked away from ALSI feeling encouraged and empowered to try new strategies in the service of improving student learning outcomes.”
For Brutz, one of those new strategies is giving students a choice of various final project formats to demonstrate connections they have made between course materials and the experience of an entrepreneur they interview.
For accounting lecturer Banghart, one of the biggest changes is adjusting the structure of her “Accounting Policy and Research” course to include more lower-stakes assessments throughout the semester, such as short quizzes, reflections and writing assignments. She feels the new regimen allows her to know whether her students grasp the content as she moves through the syllabus and helps them strengthen the skills learned throughout the semester.
“The program helped me to think about my course from a learner-centered perspective — what am I hoping my students will achieve from this course, and how can I best lead them to do that?” she said.
“I learned the benefit of incorporating formative assessments throughout the semester — frequent, lower-stakes assessments that allow me and the students to reflect on their learning and opportunities for improvement. I hope this might also change my students’ perspectives on assessments as continued learning opportunities for them.”
One important goal of active learning instruction, she added, is helping students understand they are in the “driver’s seat” of their education and learning is a process that continues after the course is over.
Carpenter, Banghart and Brutz are the latest Terry faculty to attend the Active Learning Summer Institute. But they are just three of the dozen faculty members who participated, said Carpenter, who also serves as Terry faculty’s liaison to the UGA CTL as the Terry Instructional Innovation Fellow.
“In this course, we were able to actively learn how to provide excellent instruction — to provide learning and growth opportunities to our students that are engaging, meaningful and valuable,” Carpenter said. “It is an honor to join several ALSI graduates from Terry that have gone before us — we are all stronger together, and together we can champion Active Learning throughout Terry College and the University.”
The push for active learning in Terry is in support of the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a program designed to improve student learning and/or student success and is a primary component of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges reaffirmation of accreditation.