Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice

reviewed by Rachel Oblath & Michelle V. Porche - January 24, 2017

coverTitle: A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice
Author(s): Paul Baepler, J. D. Walker, D. Christopher Brooks, Kem Saichaie, & Christina I. Petersen
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, LLC., Sterling
ISBN: 1620363003, Pages: 280, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice offers both an introduction to, and practical guidance for, college faculty teaching in Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs). ALCs were developed at the University of Minnesota by adapting aspects of North Carolina State University’s Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies (SCALE-UP) approach and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) approach.

Teaching in ALCs is a relatively new pedagogical approach growing across the nation’s campuses. It differs from traditional college classroom instruction in several ways. Within a space optimized for active learning: (a) students sit in small groups at round tables, eliminating the front of the classroom as the central focal point that instructors generally occupy, and (b) enhanced technological options are used, including flat-panel display projection systems at each group table. ALCs offer the potential for learning environments that are more engaging and enriching than the traditional college lecture format. However, they also present many challenges for faculty members who may be unfamiliar with them.

The book begins by familiarizing readers with the history of ALCs and an overview of the empirical research supporting their use. The development and implementation of this pedagogy are based on the theory that classroom space configurations influence both learning and teaching. ALC space is starkly different from traditional approaches and this influences the practices engaged within it. As a result, it warrants an evidence-based rationale for skeptical instructors and students alike. The research makes a compelling argument for at least attempting some of these approaches. The authors suggest starting with a modest adjustment to a class session before investing in a more substantial redesign of space and curricula. Unfortunately, a significant period of time is required to build an entire course using ALCs. The research shows the effectiveness of ALCs as being superior to traditional methods and unrelated to student demographic factors. However, a later chapter provides specific strategies for supporting students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and non-native speakers. This points to the need for further research to assess how well this approach works across these student characteristics and whether it provides the most effective supports.

The bulk of the text focuses on guiding readers through the process of teaching in an ALC, including concrete examples from the natural sciences. To a lesser extent, it also includes examples from the social sciences and humanities. As a result, the impression, likely unintended, is that ALCs are more relevant for natural science courses with laboratory work. Although other domains are identified, the relative lack of examples for social sciences and humanities courses is a limitation. However, this book provides enough information for readers to seek out additional resources available on the internet showcasing ALC environments at various institutions across the country. For example, there are chapters focused on the most common teaching challenges in ALCs. This includes the development of assignments and activities, assessment and feedback, and supporting diverse groups of students. The detailed strategies provided for engaging and managing students in complex and group-based work are especially useful. They include explicit guidelines for choosing groups, motivating collaboration, and ensuring that contributions are fair and substantiated.

Each chapter concludes with a compilation of graphic organizers and other useful tools that faculty members could implement when adapting their curricula for ALCs. Especially helpful and informative are feedback from both faculty members and students who have participated in ALCs. Instructors can expect to need more time for course preparation. For example, active learning activities could take place both before and during class, may use technology resources, and could complement brief lecture periods within the class session. This requirement will be a substantial change for instructors who prepare for courses solely centered on the lecture format.


The primary audience for this book is college instructors who will be teaching in ALCs, which are very specific learning environments and rigidly defined in this context. The text is limited in offering suggestions for instructors who do not have access to the enhanced technology available in ALCs or teach in classrooms without flexibility in furniture or setup. Despite this, anyone who teaches at the college level could benefit from reading this text. This includes those who would like to create more student-centered and interactive classrooms. It would also help support those who are interested in using flipped classroom or hybrid approaches. Many of the tools, examples, and suggestions can be adapted for use even in classrooms that do not meet the strict definition of an ALC.


The book is well-structured and easily navigable, even for those who would like to choose specific chapters rather than reading it completely. Instructors who need to develop course material by a certain deadline can easily focus on the most relevant chapters. They could also simply start with the tables and graphic organizers at the end of each chapter for practical guidance. Although the history of ALCs and an overview of supporting research are both important and interesting, they are not essential for using the more practical aspects of this volume.


Overall, A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom provides a gentle and encouraging introduction to those who may be unsure of how to make the most of teaching within ALCs. College administrators could also gain insight in establishing and supporting these types of cooperative learning environments. The emphasis on practical guidance and addressing the most common challenges for faculty make it a useful reference for both seasoned and novice ALC instructors alike.


This book challenges instructors and colleges to create thoughtful, interactive, and challenging learning environments for students. It is an important reminder that all classroom arrangements have limitations for students and teachers. However, both empirical research and anecdotal feedback can help minimize challenges and maximize learning experiences. ALCs are a model holding incredible potential for transforming learning environments.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 24, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21806, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 6:26:25 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Rachel Oblath
    Boston University
    E-mail Author
    RACHEL OBLATH is a Ph.D. student in Applied Human Development at Boston University, where she works in the Bullying Prevention and Social Adjustment Laboratory. She completed her BS in Mathematics and Elementary Education at The College of William and Mary and her M.Ed in Reading Education at Boston College. Her current research projects include measurement of youth bullying victimization and the role of power in youth bullying relationships.
  • Michelle Porche
    Boston University
    E-mail Author
    MICHELLE V. PORCHE, Ed.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor and Training Director in Applied Human Development at Boston University School of Education. Throughout her career she has studied socio-emotional correlates of academic achievement for young children and adolescents, primarily using mixed-methods approaches. She recently completed a Bureau of Maternal and Child Health funded project examining chronic physical and mental health needs that put children at risk for obesity and poor academic performance, as mediated by physical activity and moderated by socio-demographic characteristics. Recent work has included the study of early and ongoing adversity on risk of high school dropout. As a member of an interdisciplinary team she has also studied the association between trauma and substance use for adolescents, related to mental health and academic outcomes. Additional research has focused on immigrant children and families, with specific attention to the impact of trauma for resettled refugee youth. Other published findings describe the influence of poverty on early reading difficulties and the link between gender and race discrimination on adolescent retention in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue