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Our Active Learning Institute Model
August 25, 2010 - 9:30pm

Over the past two-days my institution held our Active Learning Institute, a professional development opportunity focused on teaching and learning. The Active Learning Institute is run out of our Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), with participants drawn from faculty, lab instructors, and future teaching faculty. This is the 5th year that we have run the Active Learning Institute, and the 3rd year that I have participated as an Institute designer and facilitator.

I'd like to share a few things about the structure of our Active Learning Institute with this community, both in the hopes of hearing how you do intensive faculty teaching development at your institution, and to make our model visible if anyone is interested in learning from our experience.

Here is how our Active Learning Institute is structured:

  • The sessions over the two days are built around the goals and concerns of the teaching participants. The application process for the institute asks potential attendees to write "….a brief statement (800 words or less) of the specific teaching challenges you wish to address over the two-day institute….and to…. identify the course you regularly teach or plan to teach in which these challenges arise and for which you plan to adopt new tools and techniques." From the applicant pool the Active Learning Institute facilitators select approximately 10 participants based on our ability to design a program that meets their specific needs.
  • The design of the Active Learning Institute around the attendees' needs is one of the aspects that in my experience sets this experience apart from other teaching-related professional development events that I have helped design and/or participated in. This methodology of designing the program around the attendees requires the planners to spend an enormous amount of time designing the program, and indeed our team started meeting six months ago to plan the Institute. The activities, discussions, speakers, and hands-on learning opportunities change from year-to-year based on the goals of the attendees, a process that keeps the Institute exciting and invigorating.
  • Among the designers and facilitators for our Active Learning Institute are a mix of faculty, educational technologists, librarians, and the DCAL leadership team. This cross-department and cross-skill development and facilitation team insures that participants get to know the learning professionals that they will be working with at the course design and teaching stages. The emphasis is on practical takeaways, but not on the hands-on technological implementation or training steps. Rather, we work together to think through active learning methods and opportunities in our course design and teaching, and work to insure that the participants know how to access the people and resources they will need to implement the ideas that have been discussed.

If you would like to hear more about our Active Learning Institute we would be more than happy to share our methods, materials, and lessons-learned. It would be great to hear about how your institution approaches intensive faculty development (opportunities beyond discrete workshops etc.), as I'm certain that many of you are engaged in designing and running similar events.

Does anyone have any ideas about how methods, materials and best practices for professional development around teaching can be shared throughout our community? I know that these sorts of institutes are often discussed at conferences, but it seems like some sort of web-based sharing and collaboration platform would be useful.


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