Identifying key features of effective active learning: The effects ofwriting and peer discussion

Debra L. Linton, Wiline M. Pangle, Kevin H. Wyatt, Karli N. Powell, Rachel E. Sherwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We investigated some of the key features of effective active learning by comparing the outcomes of three different methods of implementing active-learning exercises in a majors introductory biology course. Students completed activities in one of three treatments: discussion, writing, and discussion+ writing. Treatments were rotated weekly between three sections taught by three different instructors in a full factorial design. The data set was analyzed by generalized linear mixed-effect models with three independent variables: student aptitude, treatment, and instructor, and three dependent (assessment) variables: change in score on pre- and postactivity clicker questions, and coding scores on in-class writing and exam essays. All independent variables had significant effects on student performance for at least one of the dependent variables. Students with higher aptitude scored higher on all assessments. Student scores were higher on exam essay questions when the activity was implemented with a writing component compared with peer discussion only. There was a significant effect of instructor, with instructors showing different degrees of effectiveness with active-learning techniques. We suggest that individual writing should be implemented as part of active learning whenever possible and that instructors may need training and practice to become effective with active learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-477
Number of pages9
JournalCBE Life Sciences Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2 2014


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