Written by Kelly A. Hogan, University of North Carolina

We all intuitively know as instructors that the success of a student is tied to their high school preparation. Students coming from disadvantaged high schools will often struggle with the transition to college biology more so than other students. You know the type; they work hard and spin their wheels, only to feel frustrated with their ability to keep up and pass the tests. How do we reach these students and “level the playing field”?

David Glenn writes a summary of two studies examining the effect on the achievement gap when a large introductory biology class is redesigned into an active learning environment. The article, “Low-Cost Instructional Changes Can Cut Achievement Gap in Intro Biology,” http://chronicle.com/article/Low-Cost-Instructional-Changes/127747/ is a quick summary with links to the Science and Life Sciences CBE Education journal articles. The study was led by Scott Freeman at the University of Washington and concludes that active learning in this study cut the achievement gap by almost half. The study discusses some simple ideas like randomly calling on students in the large lecture class, having students write minute papers in class, and being quizzed on the reading.

What kinds of simple things have you done to improve the active learning environment of your class?