Meet ACSL (Active Slide): A low-prep / high-yield teaching strategy that transforms lectures into engaging encounters with course content.

Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

Starting with an acknowledgement of lectures as a still widespread teaching technique, the presentation proposes an innovative, easy-to-implement teaching strategy that streamlines lecture planning, and transforms lectures into active, engaging encounters with course content: ACSL (ACtive SLide) is a low-prep, high-yield strategy with measurable results.


George Jura is the Director of Academic Technology at the U of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing (SoN) where he leads a team of academic technology staff in helping faculty identify, explore, and implement technology-enhanced teaching & learning solutions that best support and complement the School's undergraduate and graduate programs. The driving force behind his work is the realization that even the most sophisticated technology is useless, if people who could benefit from it don't know how to use it effectively; consequently, his passion is making information about technology easier to find and understand, and making technology easier to use. His primary long-term interests include evidence-based instructional design and course development, the use of student-response systems to increase student engagement in large undergraduate courses, and helping faculty develop generative learning activities that promote understanding. His immediate present focus is on leading the UW-Madison School of Nursing academic technology team in the planning and design of courses for two new graduate (Doctor of Nursing Practice) programs to be launched in the fall of 2021. In the past, he has lead campus-wide technology training initiatives for students and University staff at U of Wisconsin-Whitewater, as its first Technology Advancement and Training Coordinator, including managing the UW-W TechQuest project, an innovative online technology training for incoming students. Before focusing entirely on instructional technology, George developed broad teaching expertise as a faculty member at Iowa State U. (Ames, IA), and Lawrence U. (Appleton, WI), where he taught numerous technology-enhanced courses on Spanish Mediaeval & Renaissance Literature; Spanish Art; Film and Narrative Theory; and Linguistics. He shared his ideas on teaching with technology with audiences at numerous forums, including presentations and workshops at several EDUCAUSE National, and Midwest-Regional Conferences; ELI Annual Meetings; National Forums on Active Learning Classrooms; Distance Learning Conferences (Madison, WI) incl. 2020 virtual conference; OLC Accelerate 2019, several Modern Language Association conferences, and many regional conferences and events. OLC Innovate 2022 session is titled 'Nudge, Sludge, and Choice Architecture: Applying the Lessons of Behavioral Economics to Instructional Design.' Session preview info at:

Extended Abstract

When in 2014, the School of Nursing - moved to an innovative and beautiful new building on a mid-sized campus (about 40K students), I - along with many of my colleagues - firmly believed that lectures were quickly becoming a thing of the past, and active learning **was** the future. Having originally graduated from a University where young Copernicus attended his first **lectures**, before proceeding to re-structure the known universe, more than half a millennium before me, I had a healthy respect for lectures, admitted they had had a great run, and believed that now, we simply knew better. It was time for a change, and if all the research was with us (and it was), who would be against? 
We designed our new building with that idea (or was it an ideal?) in mind: active learning classrooms that could accommodate 180 students each, filled with round tables for 9, deliberately designed to encourage student interaction and teamwork and engaged problem-solving, with high-tech displays and connectivity to match, and over 60 whiteboards to offer a broad, spacious canvas for all these innovative ideas students we going to come up with. And not one traditional lecture-hall in sight. As the director of academic technology for the School, I was thrilled to be working alongside a team of passionate professionals - architects, designers, programmers, engineers - and design the learning spaces of the future that was beginning to materialize right in front of me. 
Then, one day, an instructor I very much respected, and students adored, came up to me and asked, somewhat sheepishly: what’s the best spot in this room to lecture from? I was mortified - it was heresy! 
Or perhaps it wasn’t. Having spent 10 years at the School working alongside outstanding faculty, and with the benefit of high-tech, well-equipped active learning classrooms, I now know it isn’t quite that simple. Yes, active learning is the preferred approach: students learn better this way. But - as most good things - it comes with a price: if done well, complex, thoughtfully designed learning activities require planning and often a lot of advance effort and prep; they often need to be treated as “prototypes” and reauire patient refining over time to fully realize their potential and fulfill their promise; and during class, they are often simply not very efficient, requiring a substantial amount of time to produce a modest - if important and memorable - insight. In other words, there is plenty of room for complex, elaborate, engaging learning activities, but it is close to impossible to rely on them entirely, especially at beginning curriculum levels in professional, information-heavy disciplines (nursing, engineering, law, and many others), where vast amounts of foundational information need to be thoughtfully memorized and quickly integrated into existing knowledge base. 
And for that, lectures are still unmatched: they allow faculty to direct students attention, to show important patterns in noisy overload of information, to address misconceptions quickly, and to make complex concepts accessible. And faculty often wonder if there is a better way, a middle ground, somewhere where we can keep the advantages of lectures, and somehow incorporate the benefits of active learning at the same time. 
This presentation, based on long-term, practical experience (as a faculty, and director of academic technology who assists faculty in teaching), and building on my own insights and those of faculty I work with, proposes a simple, innovative method for making lectures more active, without at the same time, making teaching prep overwhelming. 
I introduce a concept of ACSL (ACtive SLide). ACSL approach consists in developing a lecture and identifying in it either natural breaks in the flow of ideas, or places that are particularly complex or at risk of leading to misunderstandings and misconceptions. This approach allows faculty to focus on finding the best way to present the content they know, without the distraction and time commitment to have to design activities at the same time. Later the identified active slides become open placeholders for active learning. This approach works well with both, live face-to-face lectures, as well as recorded video-lectures (either via lecture-capture or narrated PPPT-style lectures).
The second component of this approach is a short catalog of several activity templates that can be used at each “active slide” point. All such activity templates are based on solid educational research, with results that have been successfully replicated many times, and produce measurable positive student outcomes (significant effect sizes, not merely student satisfaction, although it is important too). The activity templates IO discuss and include range from very simple (“brain drain” aka “Brain dump” or “muddy point”), to classic (a brief multiple-choice mini-quiz check), to fairly elaborate, structured activities more appropriate for a post-lecture review. In each case, the catalog description of each activity “type,” clearly indicates the intensity of advance prep needed, the time commitment required for implementation (how much class time will it take?), time for grading or feedback (if needed), and applicability/feasibility depending on class size (number of students - what may work well in a lecture with 50 student may not work in a lecture with 350). Specific real-world examples are discussed. 
The presentation  also addresses (briefly, in the concluding part) practical considerations and benefits of this approach in particular for the production of recorded lectures: for example, because the active slides are merely “placeholders” for activities whose instructions are NOT a part of the recorded lecture, they can easily be changed (to replace activities that didn’t work well, or to accommodate different time demands), without the need to re-record the whole lecture, lowering production costs significantly, especially in programs that need to caption/transcript all lectures. A sample mini-video-lecture (under 10 mins) with full implementation of this method will be available to session attendees on my website/blog ( ) at the time of the presentation (I am developing a sample lecture that uses this approach for a January 22 Workshop that will be offered in late January for my department's faculty, and the produced exemplar will be made available to session participants as well).