100 ideas for Active learning 

I recently attended a free online CPD course run by the Active Learning Network on inclusive communities.  Over three online sessions in November, several contributors from the book 100 ideas for active learning presented their ideas and encouraged attendees to try out their activities individually or collaboratively in breakout groups. The workshops were inspiring and thought provoking and really brought the ideas to life. I have put together a short summary of the sessions and urge you to check out the many other ideas in the book.

Silhouette of People during Golden Hour by Pixabay

Week 1: Inclusive Practice

(watch the YouTube recording)

Dr Jessica Clare Hancock, Student characters for a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach to university life.

Dr Hancock is the Head of Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester, but she presented on an activity she developed here at City when she was based in Learning Enhancement and Development (LEaD). Participants on the Master’s in Academic Practice (MAAP) Student Support & Personal Tutoring module had to work in groups and were allocated a profile of a fictional student with potential support needs. Each group then received messages from their student throughout the course via the Moodle forum.  They had to meet and discuss how to respond to each message before sharing the student update and the group’s reply with the rest of the class. Dr Hancock discussed how using a fictional character with a particular issue allowed participants on the module to explore issues of intersectionality, complexity and authenticity.  This activity could also be used with students directly to explore how to deal with issues or promote the various services available to them.   

I had the opportunity to try this out briefly when we were put into breakout rooms and were asked to draft a reply to a ‘student’ email. My group found the student profile and message was a great way to focus our discussion and several participants thought the activity could be adjusted to be used in a different context with their students. Once you have created your fictional profiles and drafted the emails this activity could easily be set up using a Moodle discussion forum with groups.


Dr Alison G. Harvey, Scaffolding an event

Dr Harvey discussed an activity that she devised for STEM students at the University of Manchester, in which students were required to apply what they had learnt to a real-life situation through planning a public outreach event. The planning was broken down into different layers with peer feedback and reflection built into the process. Students were then asked to submit their plans as coursework.  Dr Harvey found that giving students agency while also scaffolding the tasks worked well. It allowed them to find gaps in their knowledge and the peer feedback helped to build up a sense of community. Many students were very excited by the activity and took ownership of the task.  

We were asked to discuss how this approach could be applied to teaching in our own contexts with many ideas put forward. Timings could also be adjusted with everything carried out in one extended session or different layers broken down into tasks over a number of weeks.


Dr Eugenia Tzoumaka, to agree or not to agree working towards consensus under conditions of mutual respect 

Dr Tzoumaka developed this activity for students studying Markerting at Deree – The American College of Greece after finding that students were struggling with summative groupwork tasks. Students are required to work as a team on a survival game. Scores are given on an individual and group basis with reflection and discussion on whether participants scored higher individually or as a group. When discussing the outcome of the game students are asked to think about their own behaviour (did they act respectfully with each other and did they consent, compromise? and what they could have done differently?

Dr Tzoumaka used this activity for students who were new to the subject area and group work and found that by creating opportunities for visible group work she was able to prepare students to work towards consensus under conditions of mutual respect. We were given a taster of the session in breakout groups, we had to work together to complete a google form agreeing on three objects from a list of 12 items that we would pick to survive a plane crash.  The activity worked well online and just in our short time I could see how it would bring out the issues and dynamics of groupwork.  


Group hand cheer

Week 2: Building Communities

(YouTube recording) 


Dr George Kyparissiadis, ‘Put yourself in my shoes’: an active learning exercise for the instruction of diversity 

Originally designed as a formative assessment in a course on Advertising Theories. Students select an advertisement (print or video) that portrays social groups and models of different abilities, genders, ethnic identities, etc. They are then asked to put themselves in the shoes of the person being represented in the ad, and to write in the first person how they feel seeing themselves in an advertisement. The purpose of the exercise is to encourage students to develop empathy and appreciation for diversity and inclusion.  

Dr Kyparissiadis used this activity as a formative assessment, students are asked to post their first-person statement on a discussion forum and are encouraged to review and comment upon the previous entries. Students then share the advertisements they had selected in class and the discussion that follows is key in ensuring that students benefit from the diverse perspectives and understand the significance and value of inclusion in advertising, as well as the larger societal context.


Dr Victoria Wilson-Crane, International Pathways students: applied Learning Weeks build networks

Dr Wilson-Crane presented on a institutional wide initiative at Kaplan International Pathways. In response to student feedback and requests for more collaboration with students outside of their own courses, the academic year and structure of taught classes were adjusted with cycles of five weeks of taught classes followed by Applied Learning weeks.  During a learning week students pick a theme to work on in their work and then work with peer from different courses and at different levels (UG and PG) to work towards a common goal such as presentations, objects, posters etc. There are daily check-in points with tutors to ensure students are on track and everyone receives peer and staff feedback and are required to write about their work in an e-Portfolio.  

Although this academic year structure is unique to Kaplan International Pathways this idea could applied on other programmes or more widely in cross-institutional arrangements where students generally do not currently work in interdisciplinary teams.


Kelly Trivedy, MS Teams: illuminating a research community 

Kelly discussed how she used MS Teams as part of a PGCE postgraduate research module in order to build a community of practice. This model could be applied out to any module, but particularly those which have a longer-term project involved or a hybrid style of delivery. It lends itself well to group-based projects too.  
It was good to see Teams being used successfully as a space for collaboration and community building. The LEaD online guidance has more details on how to use Teams for Teaching.


Malgorzata Trella and Sophie Rutschmann, Interactive mind map – creating bonds among new learners 

Written for a Masters in Immunology programme, at Imperial College London, consisting of around 35 students divided into small groups of five or six. This activity was developed for online teaching, with the help of online breakout spaces, and can easily be adapted to a face-to-face setting.    

The students are provided with a pre-selected coursework book chapter or publication which explores introductory concepts in the subject of interest. Students are instructed to read the assigned section from the coursebook or publication, discuss the provided material and agree on four key points which the section is trying to communicate. These key points, together with a brief commentary summarising the importance of their theme are listed by the student groups in appropriate text boxes within an interactive mind map document. Students have 40 minutes to work in their teams to complete their section of the mind map. After the allocated time is up, students select a speaker (or a number of speakers) within their group who will briefly present the points that are included in their section to the rest of the class. Once all groups have completed their sections and presentations, a tutor provides feedback to the class. On completion of the task, a clear interdependence of all themes is demonstrated, and the developed mind map serves as a learning and revision material.

This activity could work with many disciplines and there are various mind-map tools that can be used to create a template that can be shared with students including Visio which is part of the Office365 suite. 


People On A Scaffolding Under A Purple Sky by María Melenas

Week 3: Empowering Learners

(YouTube recording)

Dr Peter Finn, Democratising teaching: student votes and module case studies

Students studying Human Rights, Politics, and International Relations at Kingston University were allowed to vote on and decide course content.  Although not all courses have scope for choice of content the parameters can be changed to suit your course with methods for voting online or on paper. Examples of choices that could be provided to students ranging from a prescribed list of suggested topics or case studies for one week to content over a whole course. Course content, will then need to be adapted to suit the outcome of the voting so Dr Finn urged caution when starting out but noted that students value the ability to feed into the selection of teaching content and that students and teachers who engage in shared decision making about what material is covered and how teaching is structured are more committed.  
Dr Finn, pointed out that voting can be carried out in various high tech or low tech ways including raising hands, pen and paper or various voting online tools including polling software (PollEverywhere) or the Choice tool on Moodle.


Margarita Steinberg, Boost learners’ confidence

Margarita explained how she drew on her coaching experience to develop timeline activity to build up students’ confidence. Participants chart out the challenges and triumphs they have experienced so far on a course, programme or their entire education (choose as appropriate). They can also identify upcoming challenges they are concerned about or feel ill-prepared for. The participants do not need to share their maps, just comment on what they are comfortable with. The activity normalises challenges and highlights successes that have already been achieved that may not have been recognised or acknowledged. It can also act as a diagnostic to find out what people are struggling with and the tutor can then choose to address common concerns in a group setting, or support students individually as appropriate.

Margarita shared a template for creating the timelines using Powerpoint and the activity can be done online or in person on paper.


Marcus Pedersen: Handing over the key: students take ownership of the learning management system to create their own learning 

Marcus explained that Covid restrictions prevented students at UCL from attending hospital, so lecturers filmed surgery and used the videos created interactive activities with the free software H5P.  The student feedback was very positive (95% increase in confidence and understanding of the topic) and the cohort were able to use the videos to prepare and make more efficient use of contact time.  Building on this success students were then asked to create their own interactive videos.  These videos would be used as formative assessment (instead of a PowerPoint presentation) and other students could use their peers’ work to revise (peer-to-peer teaching). 

  • 86% of students found that the process of developing their own video improved their confidence and understanding of topics. Watching their peers’ videos also had the same effect 
  • 86% of students believe that interactive videos are more effective than normal videos. 

Marcus gave participants an introduction to the H5P tool and allowed everyone to have a quick go themselves. H5P is available as a plugin on Moodle at City and more information about creating interactive videos is available on our online guidance.


These ten presentations were a great taster for varied ideas that are in the 100 ideas for Active Learning book. Do get in touch with your Digital Education school liaison team if you would like to discuss how you could build in these or any other active learning activities to your own teaching. 


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One thought on “100 ideas for Active learning 

  1. Love it! So many great ideas. Particularly handing the VLE to students and democratising course construction

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