Rapid Re-design using Active Learning (Lessons learned from COVID-19 forced rush to online)

Concurrent Session 8 & 9 (combined)
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to forced remote instruction with little or no prior planning and organization into the instructional design for online course development. This work is an effort to provide quick strategies and techniques for active learning for remote live/Synchronous/Zoom sessions.

Additional Authors

Educational professional with over 30 years of experience leading, supporting, developing and managing integrative learning opportunities for all levels of faculty and students on an International level.

Extended Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to forced remote instruction across several to all higher educational institutions. Faculty in these situations rapidly moved their courses into the remote format without any prior planning into design and course development that formally goes into online course development. Most of the Zoom or live synchronous sessions these faculty conducted involved sharing their screen with PowerPoint slides and giving a lecture for hours where most of the time the instructor was speaking and thus making it hard for students to concentrate. The students complained regarding the lack of engaging activities. Responding to this situation, this workshop on ‘Rapid Re-design using Active Learning’ is an effort to help educators learn techniques to further engage students for their online live synchronous (Zoom) sessions using active learning strategies and techniques. 

Active Learning (AL) can be defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process, where students do meaningful activities and think about what they are doing. The goal is to help our students be engaged constantly in relation to the learning outcomes of the course session. The workshop aims at creating a zoom/synchronous session environment where our students are in a constant flow and cannot lose concentration. The 3 key dimensions identified through reviewing the literature that should be accommodating/integrating into a course/session design are (Bradford, 2018):

  1. Engagement

  2. Meaningfulness

  3. Reflection

Here is one sample activity outline that fits an 85-minute class session that we deliver online using synchronous technology.

Outline 1: (for brevity, additional outlines are not included)

Preparatory Assessment (10 minutes)

This activity will test students on their preparation provided for this particular class. It could include a short essay (e.g., the 1 min essay) or multiple-choice questions covering homework or other activities designed to prepare students for the class. These questions should make students think critically, creatively and apply knowledge. This can also be used as a formative assessment by the teacher.

Use of Polls (can use 1 or more; the point of the polls are to initiate the session with activity relevant to the session objectives and to identify the poor understanding of key concepts)

Poll A

Poll B

Introduction (5 minutes)

Unit/Topic/Learning Outcomes (of this particular session): The instructor gives an overview of what will be covered in this session, which includes specific learning objectives.

Common Confusions / Misunderstandings / Explanations (10 minutes)

The instructor will have a class discussion and ask students to explain or defend their answers to the poll questions submitted by the students. The point is to uncover common misconceptions and ensure everyone is on the same page. The instructor can involve other students to comment on each other’s answers as well for this class discussion and can scaffold an explanation overall to help students understand the course unit or topic to achieve the related learning outcome.

Activity #1: (Simple focus on new topic concepts) (20 minutes)

This activity can include a short presentation of new conceptual material or build off the common confusions activity. Activity #1 should be a general treatment of new concepts, facts, and/or procedures (etc.). The activity can also introduce instructions to break out group activities. Activities could leverage any of the following samples, or other collaborative, cooperative activities:

  • analyzing case studies

  • playing a game or simulation that facilitates learning

  • modeling a skill

  • analyzing visuals, graphs, audios or videos

  • solving a problem

  • inquiring about a problem

  • working on an aspect of project based-learning

  • working on an aspect integrated into problem-based learning

Conduct an activity debrief (for instances when breakout groups are used, a group spokesperson presents the results of their efforts and is prepared to explain and defend results. The instructor and students summarize the activity.

Activity #2: (Deeper focus where new topics are worked in context) (30 minutes)

This activity differs from Activity #1 because the instructor introduces opportunities for students to leverage what was covered and to apply that into contextually relevant ways. For example, in a finance course, students could be asked to apply a mathematical formula to derive a business’s financial stability by exploring a different organization than was previously explored.

If breakout groups are used in this activity, then each group could have different organizations to explore or different aspects of one organization’s financial profile to examine.

Structurally, this activity could be organized this way:

  • Give an introduction or breakout group instructions

  • Conduct a poll

  • Start and finish the activity or breakout group

  • Hold a debrief

  • Give an activity summary

Wrap-up (10 minutes)

This activity closes the class session. It is important to leave sufficient time to properly end what was covered and allow for students to reflect and share aspects of what they learned. It is also important to summarize what the session covered and then provide what students need to complete prior to the next session.

The activity can be organized in this way:

  • Conduct a reflection poll

  • Summarize the session

To summarize this outline design, the building blocks in this outline can be reduced in this way:

  1. A preparatory assessment (10 min)

  2. A session introduction (5 min)

  3. Common confusions, misunderstandings, and explanations (10 min)

  4. Activity #1 – new topic general treatment (20 min)

  5. Activity #2 – deeper topic treatment, contextually relevant (30 min)

  6. Wrap-up (10 min)

Each of these building blocks can be innovated upon or used to break up a traditional presentation to promote active participation and contribution by students. The latter makes it a more easily integrated design for those situations when an instructor refuses to change the entire session plan.


The materials provided in this workshop will help faculty with resources to facilitate design work for their live sessions to make them engaging and in a constant flow. The activities in this workshop can help both current remote/online and for the traditional on-ground/blended courses when we get back to our normal routine. The goal is to help our students be in a constant flow and be engaged during the live/Synchronous/Zoom session. The proposed session is timely and relevant: using learner-centered designs in higher education for remote teaching remains an important target as it is not common practice and is an immediate need. 

Session Outcomes

This OLC Accelerate workshop will give the audience an active learning experience by using the approach described in this proposal. Participants will be able to describe active learning and recognize when a course session (live/synchronous/Zoom) design is not fully leveraging the approach. They will see how we are using this approach in fully synchronous session designs. Participants will also receive a link to a project repository with several different block outlines set into a list of educational technologies, academic disciplines, and levels (e.g., undergraduate, graduate, etc.) to improve their own course session designs. Participants will then be divided into breakout groups and will be provided with sample Zoom Session outlines to analyze and critique about their approach. A breakout group debrief will take place to brainstorm and check for answers. After this, participants will submit a reflection poll for which they will think about one question they still have on AL and also think about how they will use this approach for their own course session designs. A reflection discussion will take place at the end to share their plans for implementation with the rest of the participants. 

Learning Outcomes for this session:

  1. Clarify an operational definition of Active Learning

  2. Recognize when a synchronous/remote session design is not fully leveraging an active learning approach

  3. Apply active learning strategies in your own course/session designs

Outline of this OLC workshop (90 minutes)

Poll Questions (10-minutes)

Participants will be polled with 5 questions on their knowledge of AL.

Introduction/Learning Objectives/Common Confusions (15-minutes)

Operational-definition of AL

Present evidence from the literature regarding why AL should be implemented.

Present three key dimensions integrated into the course design to ensure AL is well implemented

Demo Outline/Access Repository/Present Examples (10-minutes)

Demo a general outline of the AL Approach. Sample: https://tinyurl.com/olcal2020

Provide access to a repository of AL Activity Blocks for synchronous/live session designs made to fit different academic disciplines, and levels (undergraduate or graduate).

Breakout Group Activity (25 minutes)

Participants will be divided into groups of 4 and will be provided with sample Zoom session outlines to analyze and critique. 

Breakout Group Activity Debrief (15 minutes)

They will then share and discuss their approach, thinking, and solutions with all the workshop participants. Each Zoom session outline will be reviewed based on the 3 dimensions of Active Learning talked in this workshop. All confusion will be clarified.

Reflection (15 minutes)

Participants will then submit a reflection poll (using Google Form) for which they will think about one question they still have on AL. They will also think about how they will use the same approach for their own course session designs. 

After the participants finish submitting the reflection poll individually they will be asked to share their plans with the rest of the workshop participants as a discussion.



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