21 Active Learning Strategies You Must Try

Active learning has been shown to improve student success, particularly in STEM courses. Faculty who struggle to adopt active learning techniques most often cite a lack of time and resources as barriers. One of the most common requests we get from faculty at Auburn is for low-risk, high-reward active learning ideas, i.e. activities that can be easily integrated into a course they are already teaching without having to alter the course schedule.

This “menu” contains specific activities, instructions, and suggestions to help you incorporate more active learning in your classes without having to redesign your syllabus. Although most can be assessed, all are designed around tasks with inherent value. In other words, these are designed to get students doing more of the important work of learning, not the instructor.


“Starters” are designed for the beginning of class. Their key ingredients are knowledge transfer from previous lessons or outside homework and mindset development to help students create the internal environment that is most conducive to focus, attention, and the mindset necessary for learning.

  • Focused Listing – This one minute writing task is designed to allow students to concentrate on the key ideas or concepts from a previous class or assigned homework. It primes the pump for learning by giving an opportunity for quiet focus and to recall previous class content. The value is in the doing, but you can also opt to have students submit their lists to quickly assess how much they retained or what the muddy points are.
  • Misconception/Preconception Check – A simple technique for gathering information on what students perceive they already know about a topic. Pairs well with difficult conversations, first-day activities, and explaining scientific principles that underlie or relate to familiar phenomena.
  • Think/Pair/Share – Students write a short individual response or reflect silently and use an iClicker to respond to a prompt or question then they share the discuss briefly with a peer; finally, pairs are asked to share distilled idea with the larger group or to respond to the question again using the iClicker. Use this technique to pace your teaching with student learning by assessing responses to determine whether to move on or if more time is needed on a question or idea.
  • Flipped Reading Quiz – Students (alone, in pairs, or small teams) generate a question based on the assigned homework they were asked to complete before class. These questions are traded and feedback is given by peers after they attempt to answer or solve it. For formative quizzes, process (i.e. participation) is graded rather than the product (i.e. right/wrong answers) making it ideal for large classes. Questions can be collected and used on future quizzes or tests, but let students know if this is the plan as the possibility of future value will improve their effort on the activity at hand.
  • Picture Prompt – Show students an image with no explanation and asked them a) to identify/explain/connect it with course related ideas or concept and justify their answers; or b) to label its parts using course terminology to name the processes and concepts shown. Do not give the “answer” until they have explored all options first. Using abstract or novel visual imagery complements a range of learning processes, particularly those related to recall.


“Entrees” are for the meaty-middle parts of class. Their key ingredient is complex cognitive tasks that ask students to apply new knowledge and skills in meaningful ways. Often, though not always, collaborative, these activities challenge students to perform and offer formal and informal means of assessing their performance.

  • Fishbone Diagram – Use this analysis tool to help students break down the causes that lead to a given effect. The “head” of the fish is the effect (e.x. U.S. housing crisis in 2008). The “spine” represents a continuum while “ribs” break down the problems according to logical categorizations, i.e. timeline, who, what, where (e.x. Key federal policy decisions that led to the crisis). It is a great tool to analyze complex phenomena (readings, events, ideas) to help separate cause and effect from correlation, or to teach systems thinking.
  • Midterm SWOT – SWOT is a tool for analyzing an ongoing situation both internally (Strengths and Weaknesses) and externally (Opportunities and Threats). Have students complete a SWOT analysis of their performance to conclude course units and major assessments (tests, essays, midterms, etc.) ant o prep students for improvement in the rest of the course. S: What are your strengths as a learner of this material? W: With what aspects of the course are you struggling? O: Are there resources on campus to help you improve or maintain your performance in the second half of the course? T: In what ways might you be standing in your own way of achieving your learning goals?
  • Role Playing – Creating a Team Based Learning (i.e. group work) activity. Before explaining the task, break students into team and give each teammate a role to play as they work on the learning activity. Roles give status and can help teams overcome social awkwardness or cultural barriers. Teams perform learning tasks better when they have a structure for working together. Try de Bono’s six roles: Information Specialist, Optimist, Judge, Voice of Intuition, Creative and Enforder. Adjust roles to team size by eliminating, doubling up, or creating new roles.
  • Defining Features Matrix – Identify 2 course concepts that have several similarities (World War I vs. World War II, types of metamorphic rocks, diseases with similar symptoms, etc.). List the important characteristics of both. Generate a matrix of two columns and have students put a +/- to indicate whether the characteristic applies to either, neither, or both. This task helps students categorize and prioritize information which aids in content retention and recall.
  • Slow-Motion Debate – A student-led, highly structured exploration of complex, concepts, data, beliefs, values, this activity asks students to listen, repeat, and build. Sides take turns sharing ideas but before a new point can be made, the team (or speaker) must restate the point just made by the previous side, and then state how they new point connects, contradicts, or augments the previous one. A mediator takes notes on the board to document to argument and provide a map of the conservation for future study or review. Pace is slow and deliberate.
  • Concept Maps – Replace reading comprehension quizzes by having students draw a diagram of assigned readings with central claims or thesis at the top followed by sub claims and specific examples of evidence. By reverse-engineering the argument, students gain confidence in reading comprehension skills of participate value on early, complex reading assignments. Add a technology skill component by using mind-mapping apps like Popplet or MindMeister. Visual assignments help students solidify learning while faculty benefit from the easily assesable “snapshot” of learning they provide.
  • Gallery Walk – This discussion technique allows students to be actively engages as they walk in team throughout the classroom. They work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to meaningful questions, documents, images, problem-solving situations or texts. In EASL rooms, gallery walks are usually preceded by a group discussion and documentation activity. The gallery walk then allows teams to use the glassboards to present ideas, give feedback (using different color markers), ask follow up questions, etc. In non-EASL rooms, paper or poster can be taped or arranged around the outer walls or groups of desks can be arranged to form landing stataions.
  • Diagnosis: Murder – You, the instructor, have died as a consequence of something related to course content. Teams must work to solve the mystery using knowledge and skills gained in the class. To prepare, use backward design. Identify 3-5 key skills or concepts you want to emphasize. Integrate them into a story with you as the protagonist: you wanted something, you misapplied a concept or skill from the course, you died as a consequence. Create a clue list of plot points. (Idea credit: Dr. Ameya Kolarkar)
  • Jigsaw – Team-based activity in which groups become subject matter experts in one of four (or more) topics related to the course during the first half of the activity. During the second half, teams switch members so that one person from each of the original groups is now in a mixed group. Each member takes turns teaching their subject matter. Example: groups are assigned different countries (Brazil, Ethiopia, Croatia, Iceland) and told the generate information about that country’s food, art, governance, and economy. Next, students from each group are swapped out to form groups with one person from each country. New groups have a topic focus (art, food, etc.) and experts from each country. Experts teach the others (take turns) and groups report out on their topic using the countries as examples of a global trend or pattern.
  • Forum Theater – A technique pioneers by Brazilian radical Augusto Boal wherein a play or scene is shown twice. During the replay, any member of the audience is allowed to shout “Stop!”, step forward and take the place of one of the oppressed characters, showing how they could change the situation to enable a different outcome. Several alternatives may be explored by different spectators. The other actors remain in character, improvising their responses.


“Desserts” are to be served up at the end of class. Their key ingredients are reflection, because it is only in looking back on one’s performance, or reviewing new knowledge and skills, that the learning become aware of their progress and what next steps are necessary, and connection because asking students to connect new to old has been shown to greatly increase retention, e.g. you are more likely to remember new content (these active learning strategies) when you are able to connect it to something familiar.

  • Concept Mapping – Students write keywords onto sticky notes and then organize them into a flowchart. Could be less structured by having students simply draw the connections they make between concepts.
  • Categorizing Grid – Students are presented with the 2-3 most important concepts or skills learned during the class period along with a scramble of subordinate terms, images, or other aspects of the 203 key concepts. Students have to organize the subordinate items by filling them under the appropriate key concept heading.
  • Syllabus Scramble – An application of the Categorizing Grid and perfect substitute for the common, humdrum first day practice of reading the syllabus aloud to the class. Instead, use headings from the syllabus as superordinate categories -course policies, goals and outcomes, evaluation and assessments, etc. and put into the scramble the most important things students need to be aware of. Have groups organize, present, and compare. The value of this activity is it helps the faculty identify and highlight mission critical course information while building the learning environment by having students meet each other through a low-stakes, game-based task.
  • One Minute Paper – Short writing reflection activity in which students reflect on the most important ideas from the day, document lingering questions, and connect new learning to something meaningful to them outside of the class.
  • Course Wrapper – Write the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) on posters or glassboards around the room. Put students into team and assign each team one of the outcomes. Then have teams reflect on what they did over the course of the semester and make a list of specific actions they took, knowledge they gained, or skills they learned that helped them achieve that outcome. This activity pairs well with student evaluations because students have the opportunity to think about the semester holistically and the work they have (or have not) done to meet course goals. In other words, students are better qualified to evaluate the course following this holistic reflection. Faculty benefit from more thoughtful feedback when they give students time to reflect on their own learning.
  • Bumper Sticker – Ask students to reflect on what they will remember from a specific class, unit or semester ten years from now and boil it down into the form of a bumper sticker (10 words or less). Have students share their bumper stickers on a Canvas discussion board so all can remember, reflect, and enjoy.

These activities can be paired or served a la carte. Substitutions are allowed and encouraged. We offer not a prix-fixe or set menu of things you must do, but rather an enticing selection of activities you can use to spice up your teaching. We encourage you to steal our recipes and add some of your own.

A Step by Step Guide to Customize Your Canvas Dashboard

All your current, past, and future courses appear under the Courses page (click “Courses” on left then “All Courses” within Canvas). Since Auburn has no plans to remove Canvas courses, after almost seven years, some faculty may have numerous courses. The large number of courses can make searching for a specific course difficult. To assist in quickly finding your current courses(s), you may Star individual courses so they appear on your Dashboard. Please note: Only open, non-concluded courses can be Starred for the Dashboard.

View All Courses and Customize Your Dashboard

1. Within Canvas, click on Courses on the left to expand the Courses menu, then click “All Courses”.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

2. This is your full course list, which includes current, past, and future courses. Click on the star to add a course to your dashboard– please note, only current courses may be starred. Courses with an orange star will appear on your dashboard, courses with a white star will be hidden.

Orange starred courses will appear on your dashboard

3. Click on Dashboard to return to your dashboard. Your orange-starred classes will now be displayed.

The dashboard, only the starred courses will appear

Customize Course Image

The card displayed for your course on the Dashboard can be customized to show an image that you choose. This helps students quickly find your course while adding a splash of color and interest to your course.

1. To change the image, select the course you would like to customize. Click on the course to open that course page.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

2. Scroll down and select “Settings” from the menu on the left.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

3. On the top of the Course Details page, click the “Choose Image” box.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

4. You may now select an image from your computer by dragging into into the top box, or use the search box to select an image from Flickr. The Flickr images may be used without fear of copyright as they are part of Creative Commons.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

5. Once you have selected an image, scroll down and click the “Update Course Details” button on the bottom of the page.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

6. Your image is now loaded. Your course’s custom picture will be displayed on the Canvas Dashboard for both you and your students.

expanding the courses menu, then choosing all courses

A Step by Step Guide for Using Duo

Auburn is protecting your data

To provide additional protection against phishing scams and related cybersecurity threats, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) is in the process of implementing 2-factor authentication on all Auburn systems with access to sensitive data. This coverage has been expanded, and you may have noticed some AU Access applications now prompt you for a Duo Security authentication.


Why Do I Need 2-Factor to Protect My Data?

You will be prompted for a Duo login to access sensitive services

By having an additional authentication check on your login, your password alone is not enough for a criminal to gain access to your account. A device is used to verify your identity when you attempt to login. You may already use 2-factor with other services such as online banking, retail, or social media sites. With recent high-profile data breaches like Equifax, this additional security helps safeguard your sensitive information at Auburn including your gradebook, course content, tax information, bank information, and email.


How Do I Setup Duo?

Your password + proof = access

To use Duo, you will need to register a device at auburn.edu/2factor. The most common authentication method is using a smart phone, however there are other alternatives such as a phone call, text message or a security token purchased from OIT. The Office of Information Technology has a complete guide to setting up 2-factor with Duo. If you have any questions on configuring Duo, the OIT HelpDesk at 334-844-4944 will be glad to assist you.


Canvas Adds Accessibility Checker

Canvas released an update that includes a few new features for faculty, such as a basic accessibility checker, an option to duplicate discussions, and streamlined comment viewing in DocViewer.

We’ve highlighted these new features in the post below. For the full update notes, please see the Canvas Production Release Notes (2017-10-28).


Accessibility Checker

When editing a page in the Rich Content Editor, click the “Check Accessibility” icon (the stick figure on the top right) to launch the Accessibility Checker tool. The checker will find common accessibility issues and assist you in correcting any it discovers. Be sure to click “Apply Fix” to apply any changes.

choose the accessibility checker icon to begin checking your page

The basic accessibility checker will assist with table headers, table captions, headings, alt text, and text contrast. For help building an accessible course in Canvas, please see the Accessibility Within Canvas guide.


Discussion Duplication

Many faculty have weekly discussion with similar discussion prompts; these discussions can now be duplicated in Canvas. From the Discussions page, click the settings icon (small gear) to the right of the discussion you wish to duplicate. From the drop-down menu, select “Duplicate”. An unpublished copy of your discussion will be created with the name, description and options settings from the original discussion.

navigate to your discussion, choose the settings menu for that discussion and then select duplicate

DocViewer – Expand / Collapse Link

While annotating documents in SpeedGrader, multi-line comments in DocViewer are now collapsed by default. To expand a comment, click on the ellipsis (…) – if a comment has replies, the replies will also be expanded. The delete icon for annotations is now hidden by default. To delete a comment, click the comment to select it, then click the trash can icon.

select the ellipsis to expand the comment and view the full comment and replies

Students Misuse Conversations Feature in Canvas

You may have heard of students misusing Conversations in Canvas to send offers of for-profit note-taking services. This is a violation of the “Appropriate Use” policy at Auburn University, specifically the clause that “access to Auburn University IT resources [i.e., Canvas] is for your individual activities that support the university’s mission, not for commercial purposes or personal gain.” Because these note-taking services often pay the student to submit their notes, the student is using an Auburn resource for personal gain.

Aside from the policy violation, the benefit from these third-party notes is unclear. The actual act of note-taking helps students learn and retain knowledge — downloading the notes online does not mean the student has learned the content.

As Dr. Gulley in Political Science expressed:

No student should feel that to succeed they need help beyond my teaching, their reading and studying, and their peer interactions. I’m not doing my job if they need that, and I would rather drag students kicking and screaming through my courses if for no other reason than to show them they are masters of their own success.

Although we are unable to prevent these advertisements in Canvas, we do recommend making a “caveat emptor” announcement in class (or in Canvas) to remind your students to beware of note-taking services free or otherwise (even those notes taken by colleagues in the same class).

You may also wish to take it a step further and invite students to work together outside of class to review for exams. Several large study spaces are available in the Mell Classroom @ RBD for this purpose (please login with your Auburn credentials).

Please call or e-mail if you have any questions. Also, please let us know if you’ve encountered success empowering your students to be better note-takers, and not note-bystanders.

Interested in Student Feedback Throughout the Semester?

We ask our students to provide meaningful feedback at the end of the semester through course evaluation. Although this feedback helps enhance your teaching for next semester, it has limited impact on those who are giving the feedback in the current semester. The Biggio Center is happy to announce a way for students to provide timely, anonymous feedback right through Canvas! The Feedback Box is an LTI integration that you can be enable in your course, providing students a simple, direct way to submit feedback while they are learning.
Once enabled, students click “Feedback” on the left and then start typing! This feedback is completely anonymous and immediate. After submission, the text will be available to you through the same link.

Canvas Feedback Box, Student View


We are working with oVote, the creators of Feedback Box, to add a few features that will expand the usefulness of this tool, such as the ability to reply, to opt-out of e-mail notifications, and to report/block abuse. We are helping shape the Feedback Box experience for you and your students, which means we want your feedback on Feedback Box!

Canvas Feedback Box, Teacher View


We are looking for faculty who are interested in allowing students the opportunity to provide feedback throughout the semester. Since this is a pilot program, we want faculty to know there may be a few hiccups during the experience. However, we believe that empowering students results in better learning.

Biggio Tech is offering two workshops on the tool, covering how to use it while also providing guidance on how to receive meaningful feedback from your students. If students give feedback throughout a semester, then they are prepared to answer the end of semester evaluations more thoughtfully, leading to a better learning experience for everyone.

Auburn University’s First Digital Badge

Digital badge popularity in higher education is on the rise. These micro-credentials demonstrate a deeper level of engagement with course material.

Biggio Center Assistant Director, Dr. Lindsay Doukopoulos, has created professional development badges for topics such as active learning and preparing future faculty. See below for Auburn University’s first digital badge. This badge was awarded to faculty who participated in and submitted appropriate materials for our Spring 2017 “Spring Into Mell” workshop series.

Dr. Doukopoulos discusses the importance of digital badge design in this University Business article. Read more: https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/badging-breakthroughs.

Canvas Adds New Native Document Viewer

Rolling out June 20th, Canvas is updating the tool used to display documents in SpeedGrader. No longer using a third-party service, Instructure built “DocViewer” in-house with accessibility and scalability in mind. Although DocViewer should behave just as Crocodoc, the previous tool, a few differences are apparent.

More information regarding the new tool is available through Canvas Release Notes

Documents should display the same way as before, but the big difference is the annotation tool in Speedgrader.

Old annotation tool:

Annotation tool used in Canvas

New annotation tool:

New annotation tool used in Canvas

Instructure says the change enhances the user experience with “fewer clicks” plus the ability to add more features down the road. Please be aware, however, that annotated downloads for students won’t be available at launch, but will be implemented soon after.

If you have any questions, please contact the Biggio Center at (334) 844-5181.

Auburn University Student and Technology Survey

Auburn University as a member of the non-profit higher-education organization EDUCAUSE conducted a Spring 2016 Auburn University Student and Technology Survey. Here are some results to consider in your course planning at Auburn. If you’d like to know about strategies for incorporating technology into teaching, please contact the Biggio Center at biggio1@auburn.edu

In a Typical Day How Much Time Do You Spend On?

In a typical day how much time do you spend doing the following? Social media - less than one hour: 32% - one to two hours: 42% - 3 or more hours: 26%. Streaming video - less than one hour: 43% - one to two hours: 34% - 3 or more hours: 23%. Online games - less than one hour: 82% - one to two hours: 11% - 3 or more hours: 7%. Research or homework - less than one hour: 7% - one to two hours: 38% - 3 or more hours: 55%.


What Devices Do Students Own?

Laptops: 100% own, 97% use in half or more courses, 99% say its important to their academic success. Tablets: 51% own, 18% use in half or more courses, 9% say its important to their academic success. Smart Phone: 99% own, 66% use in half or more courses, 76% say its important to their academic success.


What Do Students Want Their Instructors to Do More of?

  • 53% of student want instructors to do more with CANVAS.
  • 58% of students would like instructors to use more free supplemental materials on the web such as YouTube videos and Kahn Academy.
  • An even greater number of students, at 64%, would like instructors to record their lecture for use in clarifying difficult areas and reviewing for exams.
  • Students would also like faculty to incorporate the electronic resources from the publisher such as quizzes and practice problems.


Who Took the Survey?

3019 invited, 276 responded. 15% freshmen, 26% sophomores, 32% juniors, 27% seniors

Thank you to Auburn University’s Office of Information Technology for sharing these graphs with us.

Instructional Technology Specialist joins Biggio Center Team

The Biggio Center team recently welcomed new team member Paul Springfield who joins the team as an instructional technology specialist. Paul brings to Auburn a web development background and knowledge in both designs and systems. His role at the Biggio Center is to provide technology support to faculty members. This support includes creating flash labs, second life classrooms, and converting existing learning tools into online or mobile tools, among other potential tasks. Paul says of his new role: “I look forward to seeing the classroom of 2020, and I want to be a part of the support team who help the faculty at Auburn University create it. ”

Paul received his B.S.B.A. in Management Information Systems from the University of Central Florida. He has worked for Weiss & Associates, an advertising agency in Miami, and Barnes & Noble College where he assisted the setup of new stores, including the Vanderbilt University Bookstore. He has Adobe Suite, CSS, C#, C-family languages, Perl, Cisco Networking, Oracle, and Peoplesoft knowledge.  Paul is most excited about applying this knowledge to help create  the classroom of 2020. He sees eLearning as providing unique interactive opportunities to students, including 3D particle replicas, anatomical models, online labs, and virtual classrooms.

Paul has lived in Auburn with his wife for 3 years and appreciates the atmosphere of a small community in which everyone, through the university or not, is connected.

For classroom and technology help that requires Paul’s knowledge, you can contact him at pspringfield@auburn.edu.