Campus News

UGA holds second Active Learning Summit

Eric Mazur, left, a member of the faculty of education at Harvard University, speaks to attendees at UGA's Active Learning Summit. (Submitted photo)

Office of Active Learning hosts second annual summit

The University of Georgia’s Office of Active Learning recently hosted the second annual Active Learning Summit, showcasing the growth of active learning across the university and the impact it has made on thousands of students.

The conference, “Shaping the Future of Learning: Active Learning in Higher Education,” was held on Feb. 15 and 16 at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel with more than 260 people in attendance. This year, there was a spotlight on peer learning and the advantages of engaging students in the classroom.

“From every corner of campus, our instructors, students, administration and staff came together to form a community at the Active Learning Summit where we could learn from each other and celebrate the adoption of a campus culture of active learning,” said Leah Carmichael, director of active learning.

The conference’s opening ceremony was led by UGA President Jere W. Morehead, who spoke on the state of the Active Learning Initiative at the university.

“When I think about the words we associate with active learning at the University of Georgia—curiosity, initiative, reflection, connection—I get excited about what our students are experiencing in the classroom in this era of instruction at UGA,” Morehead said in his opening address.

Morehead reported on data points in instruction since the Active Learning Initiative was launched. Since 2018, 127 faculty members have completed the Active Learning Summer Institute and have redesigned 138 courses, with an impact on more than 78,000 students. More than 500 peer learning assistants (PLAs) have supported nearly 10,000 undergraduate students in more than 130 classrooms. And the number of classrooms enhanced with moveable furniture and student collaboration tools has grown by 24% in the last fiscal year.

Morehead thanked the summit attendees for pushing the boundaries of undergraduate education to ensure that UGA provides the highest level of instruction to its students.

“I know that we will continue to see the benefits of this initiative as the years progress,” he said.

Inspiring through peer learning

The opening ceremony featured keynote speaker Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, academic dean for applied sciences and engineering, and a member of the faculty of education at Harvard University. Mazur spoke on his transformation from a lecturer who relied on telling his students information to an educator who taught by asking questions and encouraging his students to work and learn together in class.

“Education is not just about the transmission of information,” Mazur said. “It is much more. It is not just about getting students to do what we do. We want them to stand on our shoulders. We want the next generation to solve the problems this generation can’t.”

Mazur emphasized the importance of having students reach an “aha moment” in their learning; students need to be able to assimilate the information they are given in class. By only lecturing, educators put the responsibility on their students to find their aha moment outside of class, which is much harder to do. Mazur explained that engaging students in class is the answer, and teaching by questioning is the key.

Mazur demonstrated the effectiveness of peer learning by giving the audience insight into his own classroom. He gave an abridged physics lesson and put a multiple-choice question on the screen, first polling the audience for their individual answers. Gauging the responses, he prompted everyone to turn to their neighbors and discuss, and the quiet room erupted into excited discussion. Mazur polled the audience for their answers a second time, and everyone was on the edge of their seats, wanting to learn the correct answer.

“The most important point is that you became emotionally invested in your learning,” Mazur said, reminding everyone he was giving a talk about pedagogy and not physics—before graciously giving the answer. “Next time you ask your students any questions, remind yourself what happened here,” he said.

Attendees also were encouraged to try active learning in small quantities. At a lunch-and-learn on the research behind active learning’s effectiveness, Meg Mittelstadt, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Ching-Yu Huang, associate director for active learning initiatives with the CTL, encouraged educators to begin weaving active learning into their instruction for as little as 10% of their class time; just five to eight minutes of active learning per class has shown a significant difference in student success.

Engaging with active learning goals

Over the two-day conference, attendees could join their choice of 15 breakout sessions focusing on one of the three active learning goals: instructor development, student engagement or classroom enhancement. These sessions included discussions on empowering students for success, active learning success stories across different academic disciplines, and small classroom charettes where participants worked together to design active learning classrooms.

One of the breakout sessions, “Unleashing the Potential of Peer Learning Assistants in Active Learning Environments,” featured a panel with Sarah Robinson, a lecturer in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and UGA students Rosemary John and Dawson Jordan, who are both PLAs. John and Jordan spoke about their experiences as PLAs helping their peers and, before that, as students in the classroom who benefited from learning alongside a PLA. They described how PLAs make students more comfortable asking questions, especially in large classes, and how PLAs create an encouraging community environment in the classroom. Robinson shared that PLAs provide extra insight into the topics in which her students need additional help, so she can appropriately adjust her lessons.

Recognizing faculty and students

During the summit, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost S. Jack Hu recognized UGA’s faculty leaders in active learning, including the most recent Active Learning Summer Institute graduates. Vice President for Instruction and Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning Marisa Pagnattaro recognized student leaders in active learning, including student ambassadors and peer learning assistants, and faculty who use peer learning assistants in their classes.

“It was a privilege to recognize the students who are leading the way in peer learning at UGA,” Pagnattaro said. “Active Learning has made a profound impact on instruction at UGA, and it is undeniable how beneficial introducing active learning strategies in the classroom is for both students and instructors.”