Structured Worksheets: Simple Active Learning Strategies to Increase Transparency and Promote Communication

Deanne Buffalari


There are varied pedagogical approaches that promote active learning in the classroom, many of which have been shown to have positive impacts on student outcomes.  Simple active learning techniques that do not require costly resources or extensive time investment for faculty may increase the likelihood of instructor adoption and decrease student anxiety or skepticism about such approaches.  In two upper-level Neuroscience electives, scaffolded worksheets were utilized to increase transparency in instructor expectations and subsequent assessment, and to support student contributions to learning and group work.  Scaffolded worksheets that presented practice questions were provided in a Behavioral Neuroscience course; students completed the worksheets alone or in teams, and course time was used for review and additional clarification.  Shared group worksheets were used to support a group project in a mid-level Cognition course.  These worksheets delineated expectations for the assignment and gave a timeline for in-class and out-of-class meetings with required individual, graded contributions to support group progress.   Worksheets also enabled instructor feedback throughout the project.  When surveyed, students responded positively to the worksheets for their ability to support learning and alleviate some of the common concerns associated with group work.  This approach was also easily expanded during the pandemic to provide more time for active learning, and to maintain communication and ensure support of student learning during periods of remote learning due to Covid-19.  Active learning techniques, particularly those that promote transparency and metacognition, are likely to benefit students and create a more inclusive classroom.  Yet care must be used in the implementation of these approaches.  In addition, barriers exist to the utilization of active learning, including a lack of support for such work at the institutional level.  Greater institutional investment in these approaches will likely broaden their use and extend their impact.