Week 3: Active Learning, Part 1


Cooperative Learning and Peer Instruction


The evidence is persuasive: active learning instruction fosters more and deeper student learning than traditional lecturing. How can we create active learning environments in our classrooms?  This week, we explore two approaches: cooperative learning and peer instruction.

After completing this module, you should be able to:

    1. Describe how group work (i.e., cooperative learning) can be a learning experience for all involved–that uncovering information in class can lead to enhanced learning and positive group work experiences.
    2. Discuss the components/principles of effective cooperative learning and associated methods to assess student learning.
    3. Use the overview of cooperative learning principles to develop activities for applications in the STEM classroom.
    4. Describe the conceptual understanding goals of peer instruction.
    5. Observe and describe the basic components of peer instruction that lead to conceptual understanding.
    6. Describe the pros and cons of different in-class personal response systems.
    7. Design effective “clicker” questions for in-class personal response systems.
    8. Transform a short segment of a standard lecture into one that utilizes peer instruction and personal response.


Video 0.3.1 —  Week 3 Introduction

Dr. Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt University and Dr. Trina McMahon from the University of Wisconsin introduce the concepts and content that will be covered in the first week of the course.

Introduction to Cooperative Learning


Video 3.1.1 — Cooperative Leaning Introduction

Dr. Campa reviews the learning goals and activities for this module.  Additionally, Doctoral student LeighAnn Tomaswick discusses “What is cooperative learning and what does it look like?” In this presentation, LeighAnn gives examples of how she implements cooperative learning in her courses.

Discussion: Refer to the classroom examples at the end of the video: Introduction to Cooperative Learning. Do you see learning happening in these group interactions? What could an instructor do to promote positive group interaction in the learning environment? Post in the discussion below.

Video 3.1.1 Slides

What is Cooperative Learning?


Video 3.2.1 — What is Cooperative Learning?

Three primary topics pertaining to cooperative learning are discussed in this video, “What is it?, Why do it?, Way to implement and evaluate it?”  In this discussion, five key principles of cooperative learning are also described with reference to an excellent reference by Johnson et al. (2006).

Video 3.2.1 Slides

Video 3.2.2 — Why Use Cooperative Learning?

Dr. Campa discusses four key points of why instructors should consider using cooperative learning to enhance learning course content as well as help prepare graduate students for future academic and non-academic careers.

Discussion: What seems challenging about using Cooperative Learning and how might you address those challenges? Post in the discussion below.

Video 3.2.2 Slides

Advice for Incorporating Cooperative Learning


Video 3.3.1 — Advice for Incorporating Cooperative Learning: Luanna Prevost

Dr. Luanna Prevost (Assistant Professor) discusses why and how she uses cooperative learning to enhance student learning in her classrooms, especially in groups.  Specifically, she appreciates/likes how students are able to bring their background knowledge and experiences into the classroom to enhance learning for all.  Examples are provided for biology classrooms.

Video 3.3.2 — Advice for Incorporating Cooperative Learning: Mark Urban-Lurain

Dr. Urban-Lurain (Associate Professor) discusses why it is advantageous to use cooperative learning in a college or university classroom.  He describes an application of how he and a colleague used cooperative learning (i.e., students worked with partners) in a large enrollment computer science course. During this presentation, Dr. Urban-Lurain stresses the importance of establishing a “culture” for cooperative learning in your classroom and how to do this.

Video 3.3.3 — Advice for Incorporating Cooperative Learning: Hovig Kouyoumjian

Hovig Kouyoumjian discusses the applications of using formal and informal cooperative learning in small and large classes.  Additionally, he describes how cooperative learning activities can be incorporated into the structure of a class.

Video 3.3.4 — Advice for Incorporating Cooperative Learning: Kelly Millenbah

Dr. Millenbah discusses why she uses cooperative learning including its value in facilitating group and individual accountability in learning course content.  Dr. Millenbah also describes the cooperative learning pedagogy of “think-pair-share” and how it can be used to help engage students with course content and controversies (e.g., managing threatened and endangered species).  For those unfamiliar with cooperative learning techniques, Dr. Millenbah encourages instructors to “start small” and not to be afraid of trying things in your classroom.

Incorporating Cooperative Learning in your Classroom


Video 3.4.1 — Incorporating Cooperative Learning in your Classroom: Informal Groups

Depending on an instructor’s objectives they could use “informal”, “formal” or “base groups”.  In this video, Dr. Campa describes the utility and planning needed to use various types of informal cooperative learning group activities.  Additionally, he offers recommendations for implementing some of these activities.

Discussion: What is a learning objective and an Informal Group Cooperative Learning assignment (to support that objective) that you could use in your own discipline? Don’t forget about Bloom’s taxonomy. Post in the discussion below.

Video 3.4.1 Slides

Video 3.4.2 — Incorporating Cooperative Learning in your Classroom: Formal Groups

Dr. Campa discusses examples of how cooperative learning formal groups can be used in STEM classrooms and their characteristics.  The use of “academic controversies” is discussed as one example of using formal groups.

Discussion: What is a learning objective and a Formal Group Cooperative Learning assignment (to support that objective) that you could use in your own discipline? Don’t forget about Bloom’s taxonomy. Post in the discussion below.

Video 3.4.2 Slides

Video 3.4.3 — Incorporating Cooperative Learning in your Classroom: Base Groups

Dr. Campa discusses some of the goals instructors may have for using cooperative learning base groups in a class and their characteristics.  Additionally, he talks about how base groups could be formed based on an instructor’s teaching and learning objectives for an assignment.  Base groups need to be monitored periodically by the instructor.  Cooperative learning references are also provided.


Refer to the example classrooms at the end of the video: Base Groups. For each classroom respond to the following questions and post in the discussion below:

1) What aspects of this classroom would support cooperative learning?

2) What aspects would make cooperative learning challenging?

3) How might you structure a cooperative learning activity in this space?

Video 3.4.3 Slides

Base Group Assignment Example

Base Groups Letter of Application

Video 3.4.4 — Example Base Group Activity in Ecology

Dr. Campa describes an example of a cooperative learning activity that requires “base groups”.  The example pertains to the management of upland ecosystems.  As a semester long base group assignment, it requires the instructor to “scaffold” the assignment into components to help enable students finish the assignment by the end of a semester (i.e., and avoid procrastinating).

Video 3.4.4 Slides

How to use Cooperative Learning Successfully


Video 3.5.1 — How to use Cooperative Learning Successfully

Dr. Campa discusses the characteristics of groups working cooperatively vs those not working cooperatively and offers suggestions for how to create high performing cooperative groups.  Effective cooperative learning groups require management by the instructor.

Video 3.5.1 Slides

Introduction to Peer Instruction


Video 4.1.1 — Introduction to Peer Instruction

Dr. Bennett Goldberg from Boston University Introduces the concept of peer instruction.

Video 4.1.2 — History of Peer Instruction

Dr. Bennett Goldberg introduces Dr. Eric Mazur from Harvard University who tells the story of how peer instruction came to be.

Discussion: Discuss your most memorable Peer Instruction experience below.

Observation Assignment


Video 4.2.1 — Peer Instruction Observation Assignment

Dr. Bennett Goldberg sets the stage for several examples of peer instruction happening in the classroom.  He challenges viewers to take notes on their observations about peer instruction.

Video 4.2.2 — Eric Mazur’s AP50 Class

This video is an example of how peer instruction works in Dr. Eric Mazur’s AP50 classroom.

Video 4.2.3 — Bennett Goldberg’s Introductory Physics Studio Class

This video is an example of how peer instruction works in Dr. Bennett Goldberg’s physics studio classroom.

Video 4.2.4 — Jenny Knight’s Biology Class

This video is an example of how peer instruction works in Dr. Jenny Knitght’s biology classroom.

Discussion: Discuss the conceptual goals of Peer Instruction below. From either the perspective of the student or the instructor, describe the value of peer engagement for the learning process.

Implementing Peer Instruction


Video 4.3.1 — Practicalities of Implementation

Dr. Eric Mazur discusses the practicalities of implementing peer instruction in your classroom.  He provides examples of effective and ineffective practices when implementing peer instruction.

Video 4.3.2 — Motivating Students

Dr. Eric Mazur provides an explanation of why motivating students to learn is important in peer instruction and provides several examples of how you can do this effectively.

Video 4.3.3 — How Questioning Works

Dr. Eric Mazur explains why asking questions of your students during a lecture is important in a peer instruction based classroom.  He also gives examples of how he asks these questions in his classrooms.

Video 4.3.4 — The Best Kinds of Questions

Dr. Eric Mazur outlines what the most effective and engaging questions professors can ask students while instructing students in a peer instruction based classroom.

Discussion: Next, you’re going to try designing your own clicker question. For more tips on writing good clicker questions, please read “Writing Good Clicker Questions” by Stephanie Chasteen at UC Boulder.

Write a clicker question specific to your discipline. Design the question so that it fulfills some of the goals listed in the handout that you just read (no clicker question fulfills ALL the goals).

Peer Instruction in Your Classroom


Video 4.4.1 — Implementing Peer Instruction in Your Classroom

Dr. Bennett Goldberg introduces Dr. Peter Newbury from the University of California San Diego.  Dr. Newbury discusses the advantages, challenges and limitations of implementing peer instruction in your classroom.

Week 3 Review


Video 0.3.2 — Week 3 Wrap Up


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