Friday, 27 September 2019

student perceptions of active learning (1)

This paper (Van Sickle, 2016) articulates what I have been experiencing in my TBL courses: student engagement and learning has been raised, but students do not like the process. Learning is being enhanced, but students do not like how it has been achieved.

One of the implications of this study is that students’ self-reports are not accurate indicators of their learning: students are not able to accurately assess the quality of their own learning. In this study, students performed better in the flipped classroom (as indicated by exam scores) yet they rated the learning experience as less effective than a traditional lecture.

Jenna Van Sickle unpacks this discrepancy with five possibilities:
  1. Learning is messy and hard and students resent experiencing this reality.
  2. Less equitable student-instructor interaction in the flipped classroom. It increases markedly for some and none for others whereas in the traditional lecture everyone receives the same interaction. I don’t think I agree with this because most traditional lectures, I think, will involve some Q&A between instructor and student, but typically this will be with the same students willing to raise their hands. But note this in the context of Anna Risannen’s findings in their blended learning Science courses on the North Campus - it seems that the instructor has the greatest impact (on student learning or on student perceptions of learning?). 
  3. First time experience with active learning. Students understanding of teaching may involve the teacher telling them what to learn whereas flipped requires students to take responsibility for this.
  4. Not all students will have done the pre-class assignment and thus feel ill-equipped to attend to the in-class assignments. Although this is their choice and responsibility when they assess the class with SETs they may remember that they felt uncomfortable in class and this is what influences their SET rating of the class.
  5. Finally, Jenna suggests that a class culture of being ok to be wrong may be uncomfortable for students. This kind of learning environment requires students to take risks in order to benefit from the active learning opportunities. Many students will, but some students may feel uncomfortable doing this. Instructors can mitigate this by giving feedback often in a manner that praises effort rather than ability (promoting a growth mindset). Teaching is cultivating the development of ability which requires focus, effort, and time on task. These are the attributes on which instructors need to be giving feedback because these are what produce learning. In contrast, in a lecture-based class, students will not have to risk a wrong answer. There is inevitably embarrassment with a public wrong answer and this will colour students’ perception of the class. Yet, this is exactly what I am trying to do with my use of TBL - I want students to realize when they do not know something. I want to prevent students from fooling themselves that they have learned something - students may resent my holding a mirror to their learning.
The difficulty of a learner-centred classroom eliciting negative student perceptions, especially in first-year introductory courses for majors, is that it may impact retention and recruitment into the discipline. Van Sickle does make clear, however, that it is important to cognitively prepare students for subsequent courses in the major/discipline. But like me, she wonders if there is a way to do that, actively, without producing the negative affect in students.

Note the difference in study design between this and those that study student perception-outcome dichotomy. This study looked at aggregate scores for perceptions and outcomes and compared those. In contrast, Dunning-Kruger analyses consider each students' perception of their own learning and compares that to their actual learning outcome. That is, a regression among the individual points between perception and outcome is assessed. This is a more accurate way to look at this dichotomy. So a follow-up study would be to do this same regression analysis among active learning and lecture classes to see if there is a difference in perception correlation with student learning outcomes.


Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121–1134.

Van Sickle, J. R. (2016). Discrepancies between student perception and achievement of learning outcomes in a flipped classroom. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(2), 29–38.