Teaching Tools Library Feature: Active Learning while Physically Distant

As part of the TPS Collective Teaching Tools Library, we’ll be offering periodic feature reviews of specific items in the library that may be of use to those who teach with primary sources.

Even as a vaccine comes onto the horizon, many of us are still facing the prospect of remote instruction for the spring semester. In preparation for the spring, let’s end the year with a document about teaching effectively online: “Active Learning while Physically Distant.” Initiated by Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner at Louisiana State University and expanded collaboratively since, “Active Learning while Physically Distant” is a concise but punchy seven pages of ideas for how to structure a class session to facilitate learning. The document is subdivided by teaching goal, making it easy to search to suit a given need. It then takes different teaching techniques that might be used in a face-to-face context and offers suggestions for how each one of those techniques might be translated into synchronous, asynchronous, and physically distant in-person sessions. As an example: a small group discussion might be adapted to a synchronous online session by using breakout rooms or collaborative document tools, whereas an asynchronous session would use a discussion forum, and a physically distanced in-person group could similarly use collaborative document tools to discuss materials from a safe distance.

The distinction between the different forms of online instruction is especially laudable due to its implicit acknowledgment of the digital divide and different student needs, aspects that can easily be forgotten in the scramble to adapt to the digital teaching environment. It also heightens a general sense of how the same lesson goal could be adapted to multiple contexts, which encourages flexible thinking and to re-evaluate exactly what the core elements of a specific teaching technique might are and which of them can be transposed to a new context. For those of us looking at remote instruction in the spring, this document may offer both new ideas or a model for adapting already extant practices.

This feature review was written by John Henry Adams, PhD, special collections librarian at the University of Missouri.

Have a tool that you think would be good for the Teaching Tools Library? Feel free to add it yourself via the Zotero plugin or send your contribution here and we’ll take care of the rest!