Using the TREC model to add active learning to your online sessions


A woman trekker stands at the top of a hill
Laurentiu Morariu, Unsplash

Across the week of 19th to 23rd April, I attended a number of sessions as part of the Active Learning Network’s Global Festival of Active Learning. These ranged from drawing circles, faces and rainbows as part of an open creative studio to taking part in an online escape room.

However the session I found most useful was called “Making live sessions more interactive and fun” presented by Rod Cullen and Orlagh McCabe from Manchester Metropolitan University. Their aim was to help you to move from presenting information to presenting interactive activities in your sessions.

They introduced a simple model they have developed called TREC. This takes you through four steps in designing your activity to encourage participation and contributions.


Trigger – This is the initial question that starts the process. What do your students already think/know/feel/believe? For example, you can ask them to come up with a definition for a concept or their opinion on a topic. Then give the students a way to respond.  You can gather responses in a variety of ways. It could be as simple as asking them to share a GIF to show their feelings on a topic, or you could use something like Poll Everywhere or live chat to get a text response.  In the workshop, they asked for our experiences of teaching online and asked us to share a GIF on a Padlet to express it.

Review – During the next stage, look at the responses that have come in. Do your students have a shared understanding of the question? Are there wildly differing opinions? In the workshop, we were able to view each other’s GIFs are they came in and see how we all felt.

Expected/Evidence/Evaluate – Next compare and contrast the responses with either what you expected to see, in the case of opinions, or with the evidence, if you were checking knowledge.  You will have to prepare something here to show the expected responses. For example, if you asked for them to generate a definition, you can take the opportunity to present the formal definition here. Then ask the students to react to this comparison. In the workshop, they anticipated our reactions would range from exciting to challenging to stressful, and we gave them a Zoom thumbs up or thumbs down based on how accurately they had anticipated our responses.

Consolidation – The final step is to capture the feedback and responses, and to use this to challenge participants to reflect on their belief/experiences. Why did they come up with that definition? Why do they hold that opinion?

One advantage of this model is that not all of the four steps need to take place during a live session. You can pose the initial trigger question as part of  preparation before a session and then give them a consolidation task to carry out afterwards. If you have a series of live sessions, these preparation and review elements of the activity can create a bridge between sessions.

They also gave a a simple tip on how to identify elements of your presentation to use as the basis of activity. Look for areas where you are presenting data, lists, definitions or controversies/split opinions. All of these are good starting points.

We also discussed the challenges for both staff (lack of time, unfamiliar technology) and students (digital poverty, lack of confidence) in creating and participating in these activities. But overall, I feel it’s a very simple model to use especially if you’re not sure how to approach creating an activity.

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2 thoughts on “Using the TREC model to add active learning to your online sessions

  1. Sounds great – look forward to trying this in September. Any chance you might say something about Padlet use? I’d like to try it but haven’t been able to find anything on it here. Many thanks

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