Last Friday, Dr. Cynthia Finelli presented a public talk on “Active learning in the STEM classroom: Overcoming barriers and planning for action’’, at the Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation’s (IEEI) Distinguished Lecture Series hosted by Dr. Tracy Hammond, Director, IEEI.
Finelli is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Professor of Education, and Director of Engineering Education Research at the University of Michigan.
Finelli’s research deals with bridging the gap between research and practice by promoting the adoption of active learning. Active learning typically consists of students doing anything in class to learn other than listening to the instructor and taking notes. While active learning has large and consistent impacts, its adoption can be slow. She identified motivators to adopting active learning like personalized support, local context for research, student experience, networking, and a safe environment. She also pointed out that the main barrier to adopting active learning in the classroom was student resistance. While students seldom demonstrate open resistance, research shows that passive resistance is more common.
Finelli explored the two significant predictors that influence student resistance to active learning–explanation and facilitation strategies. Explanation strategies deal with how the instructor introduces the activity and describes its purpose, while facilitation strategies deal with how the instructor promotes engagement and keeps the activity running smoothly once it has begun.
The talk presented some exciting possibilities and challenges as educators explored how to reduce resistance and increase engagement in the classroom through explanation, facilitation, planning, and feedback. She also addressed common faculty concerns and suggested methods to adopt active learning like starting simple, using active learning early and often, explaining your purpose as an instructor, using deliberate facilitation strategies, collecting and acting on student feedback, partnering with colleagues, and collaborating with faculty developers.
Finelli is a Fellow of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), member of the Governing Board of the Research in Engineering Education Network, and member of the Steering Committee for the IEEE/ASEE Frontiers in Education Conference. She founded the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering at the University of Michigan in 2003 and served as its director for 12 years. Dr. Finelli earned the B.S.E., M.S.E., and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan.