Active Learning Initiative

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In the fall of 2016, Dean Gretchen Ritter invited departments across the College of Arts & Sciences to submit proposals for funds to substantially improve teaching and learning across significant dimensions of their undergraduate curriculum, particularly in large service courses. Grants became available to encourage and facilitate high-impact learning practices, technology enhanced learning, and a culture of educational excellence at the departmental and college levels.

The Active Learning Initiative (ALI) is currently in its second iteration of a project launched by the college four years ago. The ALI emerged in response to calls from the White House, the National Academies, the Association of American Universities, and an array of professional societies to improve college-level teaching in science and mathematics. These organizations were motivated by a growing body of new research, from both cognitive psychology and college classrooms, identifying a variety of pedagogical approaches that are significantly more effective than the traditional lecture-based format still used in most college teaching today. The college’s initial project delivered impressive results, which led to a second round of funding to broaden the earlier effort within the sciences and mathematics, to include the social sciences and the humanities — placing the college and Cornell in the vanguard of an emerging national movement. 

We are carefully studying the effects of changes in the classroom, and what active learning does is teach to more students with more varied learning modes and experiences.

—Kelly Zamudio, Goldwin-Smith Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Course Design Opportunities

Proposals for this second round were encouraged from all areas of study, and could build upon design opportunities such as:

  •  Technology to facilitate and encourage students’ active participation and collaboration in large courses, both inside and outside the classroom;
  •  Problem solving projects or case studies;
  •  Capstone projects;
  •  Experiential learning components;
  •  Synchronous online courses utilizing active-learning pedagogies.

Departments were also encouraged to consider connections with the current college-wide discussion of curriculum and graduation requirements

ALI Showcase

In a showcase on Oct. 25 at 3:30 pm in Lewis Auditorium, faculty participating in the Active Learning Initiative shared their experiences and the impact on classroom success of the new pedagogy. The showcase coincided with the announcement of new College grants to encourage and facilitate high-impact learning practices, technology enhanced learning, and a culture of educational excellence at the departmental and College levels. Watch the showcase:

Proposal Deadlines & Process 

  • September-November, 2016. Pre-proposal discussions and development. 
  • November 1. Pre-proposal due. Two-five pages outlining major ideas, relevance of proposed changes and naming faculty members leading the proposed work. 
  • January 10. Proposals due. Five-ten pages describing innovations and rationale, a schedule for faculty involvement and implementation, a plan for assessment of efficacy and outcomes, and a plan for sustaining the changes beyond the end of the project (without additional college funding). Seed-grant proposals will likely be shorter.
  • February 3. Recipients notified.
  • February 9. Awards publicly announced.