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Activity for the Sake of Activity?


This article by MaryEllen Weimer, Deeper Thinking about Active Learning (here's a link to my Diigo-annotated version of the article), made me feel a little guilty.


I agree with her that sometimes we teachers get so excited by the mere possibility of having an "active" class (and some new activity to achieve that goal) that we forget what the purpose of the activity is supposed to be.














In her words (bold is mine): learning isn’t about activity for the sake of activity. I fear we’ve gotten too fixated on the activity and aren’t as focused as we should be on the learning. We’re still obsessed with collecting teaching techniques—all those strategies, gimmicks, approaches, and things we can do to get students engaged. But what kind of engagement does the activity promote? Does it pique student interest, make them think, result in learning, and cultivate a desire to know more? Or is it more about keeping basically bored students busy?


The next time I ask my students to "think, write, pair and share" about a topic I present to them, I'm going to pause for a moment beforehand and ask myself why I'm doing this.  What do I hope students get out of this exercise?


I think I'll also spend a few minutes at the end of the activity to talk with students to see if indeed my goal was met, rather than just moving on to the next topic.



I often question my activities as well.  Typically I can tie it back to the course in some remote convoluted way but in the end if I engaged the student and inspired them to try just a little harder in my class we all win. 


I once had a student tell me I make them work harder than any other COSC 1301 Instructor.  My response....  well then I guess you win!  She is still close to me today and thanks me every time I see for everything I did.  I always tell her I didn't do anything, you did.  I merely made the assignments, you were the one who decided to complete them!


@JS "remote convoluted way" 🙂 I especially like that part of your comment.  True, sometimes after an activity I ask myself (sometimes out loud), "Now, why did we do this....?" Guess I have to be more clear before we begin the activity what the purpose of it all is. 

I have similar thoughts. I don't like to add activities that aren't really clear on the learning that should take place. A good activity should involve an effective debriefing. I like activities that give credence to a theorem or demonstrate a concept in a more concrete way. Several times in a semester I have students generate their own data in a fun exercise and then apply new techniques in charting and data analysis. I find that some activities are too lengthy for the amount of learning involved, and some are just too nebulous, not tying into the content with enough clarity. I am always on the hunt for really great (and short) exercises.

Totally agree on the need for a debriefing after the activity. Students really need to understand why the activity was the best way to learn the material (vs. lecture).


I've never been a fan of Busy Work, so making sure it ties back to my LOs in a meaningful way is important!

Sometimes I find the exercise takes all the time, and I lose time for the debrief, which defeats the purpose. I've gotten better at cutting down the exercise to fit the class time and watching the clock carefully.