skip to main content columnskip to left navigation

Center for Teaching Excellence

East Tennessee State University

Active Learning

Active Learning is a core principle of teaching excellence.

active learning pic

Active learning generally involves students directly participating in the learning process, rather than just passively listening to a lecture or reading a text. Active learning can take many forms, from questioning to discussions to guided inquiry and more. Below are resources related to active learning including practical strategies which illustrate how active learning can be applied in the classroom as well as supporting theories and research. 

You can also visit the full online repository of resources here.

Case Studies

Case studies involve active learning and critical thinking by placing students in real-life situations requiring higher-order problem solving and decision making skills. Though originally developed in medicine, law, and business, the case study method has expanded and been applied to most disciplines.

Where to find case studies

Advice on implementing case studies

Case studies on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on case studies

Scholarly articles and books on case studies:

Barkley, E., Major, C., & Cross, K. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library

Christensen, C. R. (1981) Teaching By the Case Method. Boston: Harvard Business School.

Davis, B. G. (1993) Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library

Lynn, L., (1999). Teaching and learning with cases: A guidebook. New York: Chatham House. Sherrod Library.


Creativity scholar Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of developing original ideas that have value” and argues it can be learned, improved and applied in many ways within many educational contexts. Like critical thinking, creativity can be found in any field though it may look different and be judged by different standards. The arts are not the sole domain of creativity. There can be as much creativity in mathematics as in painting. Being more creative is linked with improved problem-solving and decision-making. It is just as important to encourage students to be creative thinkers as it is to train them to be critical thinkers.

Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock your Mind for Innovation has some practical ideas and exercises widely applicable to many learning settings.

Michael Michalko has some creative exercises to get your creative juices flowing.

Another approach is to consider creativity in terms of convergence and divergence. How can this relate or be applied to your discipline or class?

The Remote Association Test is a measure of convergent creativity.

The Alternate Uses Test is a measure of of divergent creativity.

Creativity on the CTE Resource Center

Articles and books on creativity:

Berger, W. (2016). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Robinson, K. (2013). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. Chichester, UK: Capstone Pub. Sherrod Library.

Von, O. R., & Willett, G. (1984). A whack on the side of the head: How to unlock your mind for innovation. North Ryde, N.S.W: Angus & Robertson.


How can discussions help my students learn more in class?

Discussions are a great way to encourage students to process course information. It permits students to spend more time using the information in their working memory, and while discussing it and making connections to their own experiences, their emotions, or information they already know, they are finding ways to “code” it so that it becomes integrated into their long term memory.

Not sure what this means? See the page on Information Processing Theory!

What are the best methods for ensuring students will engage in a discussion?

In general, research suggests that the information used in discussions will stick with students if the discussion centers around

  • A controversial issue
  • An issue that evokes strong emotions
  • A topic that is complex and novel

Discussion prompts that meet one of these criteria is more likely to get students interested in the topic and motivated to participate in the discussion – both of which lead to more thinking and processing about the topic.

Discussion leadership

Although instructors can certainly be the leaders for a class discussion, don’t discount the value of having students take this responsibility. When students lead discussions, they are put into an instructional role, which often requires them to know the material well in order to effectively lead the discussion. Therefore, students who lead a discussion are likely to learn that content or topic quite well. 

What are some ways I can integrate discussions into my course?

Online Discussions

by Alison Barton 

ETSU Tips on discussions

Discussions on the CTE Resource Center

See also: Courageous Conversations

 Scholarly articles and books on discussions: 

Brookfield, Preskill, & Preskill, Stephen. (2016). The discussion book : 50 great ways to get people talking. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library.

Howard, J. R., & American Sociological Association. (2004). Discussion in the college classroom. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. preview.

Pelz, B. (2010). (My) three principles of effective online pedagogy. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 14, 103-116.

Swan, K., Shea, P., Fredericksen, E. E., Pickett, A. M., & Pelz, W. E. (2000). Course design factors influencing the success of online learning. ERIC Reports, Report ED448760, 7pp. Link.


Have you ever attempted to travel somewhere new without a map or GPS?

How helpful would it be to receive periodic updates telling you, "You're in the wrong place"?
Will that help you get where you are going?

Feedback is for students what a map or GPS is for travelers. It tells students not just whether they are on the right track or not, but precisely where they are in relationship to where they are going. Effective feedback should tell students three essential things:

  1. What they do or do not understand;
  2. Where their performance is good or poor; and
  3. How they should change what they are doing to move toward improvement (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010)

Feedback, like assessments, come in two forms:

  • Formative feedback provides information to students about how they are progressing toward a specific set of criteria. It can be used by students to inform their subsequent learning or performance. This kind of feedback should be offered before a final student product is submitted.
  • Summative feedback provides information to students about their level of proficiency on their final product. This is often where we would assign a grade or score.

Although both types of feedback have value, formative feedback truly supports a learning process for students, particularly if it is targeted. Targeted feedback details, in a prioritized fashion, where students do or do not approach the criteria, so they know how to most effectively and efficiently work to improve their performance.

The timeliness of feedback is essential to its effectiveness. Formative feedback is most effective when it is offered:

  • Early, when students need it and can use it;
  • Frequently, if possible (and even if somewhat minimal, but useful);
  • Before any subsequent attempts at similar performance (e.g., before a second draft is due).

How Can I Easily and Efficiently Provide Effective Feedback?

1. Identify common errors in student work.

It may take time with new assignment to recognize which errors student typically make, but this list may be very easy to create for assignments you have offered in the past. Consider creating a table that lists each common mistake, with a column to the left that allows you to mark (X) which items are of most concern. This table can be copied and pasted to students' electronic work (and returned) or printed and attached to hard-copy work. Example:

  The statements in your introductory paragraph do not support the direction of the rest of your paper. Please review the purpose of your paper and work to re-state it clearly in your introduction.
X Your spelling and/or grammar is impeding the effective communication of your message in this work. Please visit the Center for Academic Achievement for a consultation to learn where your most common errors are, so you can work to correct them.
  Although you include some citations, they are not as thorough or as updated as they ought to be. I recommend reviewing more research so that your statements are effectively supported.

2. Prioritize the feedback you provide.

Of the information you can provide each student on his/her performance, what 1-3 pieces of information would make the most impact on improved performance? Students may become overwhelmed by too many corrections; honing in on the changes that need to be made that will make the most (positive) difference can feel do-able by students and saves you some time on giving feedback.

3. Tell students where they are doing things right, too.

Hearing that some of their performance is correct can help students become more receptive to where they need to focus attention toward improvement. Further, like a roadmap, it says to students that they are on the right track here, but not there. Students therefore won't waste time correcting areas of their work that does not need correcting. Further, the next time they address a similar assignment, they will know that they can effectively perform well with those particular elements. 

4. Use rubrics - before the assignment begins and for feedback.

Rubrics can explain to students, in detail, the elements you believe are important for their performance to be successful. Consider investing some front-end time in creating a rubric (table) that details Excellent, Competent, Not Yet Competent, and Poor characteristics of the work to be assessed. Once created, this rubric can be used both to inform students in advance of how their work will be assessed, as well as attached to each formative submission so each student knows where work should be invested for improvement. The rubric can be printed, circled, and attached to students' hard-copy submissions, or attached electronically to a student's electronic submission (or sent/uploaded separately as an electronic document to each student), with the appropriate "cells" highlighted in some manner (text is red; background is yellow; etc.). 

5. Use peer feedback opportunities.

Providing an opportunity for peer feedback can give all of your students some valuable learning time, while also giving you a break. If you have clear criteria or a rubric, you can have students pair up to assess each others' work (using the criteria/rubric as a guide). From this experience, students will have an opportunity to learn how to identify the qualities of good work, and may identify places in their own work that need attention. Using peer feedback may work best if students are first provided with some practice opportunities, such as putting up examples of poor and excellent work, and having students evaluate them and compare notes, under your guidance.

Feedback on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on Feedback

By Alison Barton

Scholarly articles and books on feedback:

Ambrose, S. (2010). How Learning Works : Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library.

Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2015). Thanks for the feedback. London: Viking.

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10-16. Link.

Flipped Classroom

To flip a class means to invert the usual order and placement of learning content, homework, and active learning. In a flipped class, students are responsible for reviewing content before class through readings, video lectures, or other means. Classtime is then reserved for active learning to reinforce and apply concepts and skills.

Team-Based Learning (TBL) is one active learning technique that incorporates the flipped model. See our resource tab on TBL below.

Flipped classrooms on the CTE Resource Center

Scholarly articles and books on flipped classrooms:

Nilson, L. (2016). Teaching at Its Best : A Research-based Resource for College Instructors. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

O'Flaherty, J., & Phillips, C. (April 01, 2015). The use of flipped classrooms in higher education: A scoping review. The Internet and Higher Education, 25, 85-95.


Games are fun and having fun helps us learn. A good game is intrinsically engaging and motivating, two factors also central to learning and retaining information. Assignments, quizzes, and entire courses can be set up like games, a trend sometimes known as gamification. Among other benefits, game elements create a reward system for mastering content, help students keep deadlines, improve task management, and build a sense of community. 

Games on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on games

Scholarly article and books on games in higher education:

Nicholson, S. (2012, October). Strategies for meaningful gamification: Concepts behind transformative play and participatory museums. Presented at Meaningful Play2012. Lansing, Michigan. Available online at

Tierney, W. (2014). Postsecondary Play : The Role of Games and Social Media in Higher Education. Baltimore, Maryland : Johns Hopkins University Press. Sherrod Library.



Group learning is active by its very nature. Discussion and collaborative problem solving helps move students toward higher-order thinking skills. Group learning can range from quick, informal sharing to collaboration on large projects.

Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching has an excellent guide on collaborative learning techniques such as "jigsaw" and "think-pair-share" as well as overview of research supporting the efficacy of group learning. 

Group work is sometimes stigmatized by students and criticized by teachers. Consider some of the challenges and plan for success by consulting this guide by the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Team-Based Learning (TBL)is a more organized form of group or collaborative learning in which much or all of class time is used by groups actively working on learning modules. 

TBL is successfully practiced at ETSU by many teachers and programs. See for instance our profile of Dr. Sarah Melton, Gatton School of Pharmacy, to find out how she uses this innovative approach in her classes.

Group learning on the CTE Resource Center

Scholarly articles and books on group learning:

Barkley, E., Major, C., & Cross, K. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library link.

Brame, C.J. and Biel, R. (2015). Setting up and facilitating group work:
Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Retrieved June 11, 2018 from

Bruffee, K.A. (1998). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed). (pp. 190-221). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Haidet, P., Kubitz, K., & McCormack, W. T. (2014). Analysis of the team-based learning literature: TBL comes of age. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3), 31.

Michaelsen, L.K., Knight, A.B. & Fink, L.D. (Eds.) (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching.Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Guided Inquiry

North Carolina State University has developed an excellent guided inquiry program. They offer this definition:

Inquiry-guided learning (IGL) refers to an array of classroom practices that promotes student learning through guided and, increasingly, independent investigation of questions and problems for which there are no single answer. Rather than teaching the results of others’ investigations, which students learn passively, instructors assist students in mastering and learning through the process of active investigation itself.

A variety of teaching strategies, used singly or, more often, in combination with one another, is consistent with Inquiry-guided learning: interactive lecture, discussion, group work, case studies, problem-based learning, service learning, simulations, fieldwork, and labs as well as many others.

Guided inquiry helps develop higher-order critical thinking skills in almost any discipline. See the book Teaching and Learning through Inquiry : A Guidebook for Institutions and Instructors for more discussion and case study examples in disciplines from psychology to physics to music to language learning to history and more.

One highly effective form of guided inquiry is POGIL: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. Dr. Patrick Brown, Associate Professor of Health Sciences, actively uses POGIL in his classes and has published a few articles and a book about his experiences.

Guided inquiry on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on Inquiry

Scholarly articles and books on guided inquiry:

Brown, P. J. (2013)  Using case-based guided-inquiring instruction to produce significant learning in an undergraduate clinical parasitology class.  Journal of Contemporary Medical Education, 1:  25-32. link.

Brown, P. J. (2010) Process-oriented guided-inquiry learning in an introductory anatomy and physiology class with a diverse student population. Advances in Physiology Education 34, 150-155. Link.

Brown, P. (2015). Anatomy and Physiology A Guided Inquiry. John Wiley & Sons Inc / The POGIL Project. Sherrod Library.

Lee, V. (2004). Teaching and Learning through Inquiry : A Guidebook for Institutions and Instructors. Sterling, Va. : Stylus Publishing. CTE Books at Sherrod Library.

Information Literacy

Information Literacy (or information fluency) is a set of skills involving knowing when information is needed and the ability to seek, evaluate, use, communicate, and ethically recognize relevant information from the sources found. Information literacy intersects with various other emerging literacies (media, digital, meta) as well as critical thinking and inquiry. 

Information literacy was central to ETSU's recent Quality Enhance Program INtopFORM which helped faculty and programs integrate information literacy into their curricula. 

The Association of College and Research Libraries' (ACRL) Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education (2000) and the more recent Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (2015) serve as guiding documents for planning, implementing, and assessing information literacy at ETSU.

Information Literacy on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on information literacy

Scholarly books and articles on information literacy:

Head, A., & Eisenberg, M. (2011). How college students use the Web to conduct everyday life research. First Monday, 16(4). Link

Hofer, A. R., Townsend, L., & Brunetti, K. (2012). Troublesome Concepts and Information Literacy: Investigating Threshold Concepts for IL Instruction. portal: Libraries and the Academy 12(4), 387–405.

Jacobson, T. E., & Mackey, T. P. (2013). Proposing a Metaliteracy Model to Redefine Information Literacy. Communications in Information Literacy 7(2), 84–91.

Mackey, T. P., & Jacobson, T. E. (2014). Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners. Chicago: Neal-Schuman.

Learning Styles

Though the idea that students may be "visual" or "audio" or "kinesthetic" learners is popular and full of intuitive appeal, there is little evidence to support tailoring instruction to learning styles. 

The problem with learning styles is they often assume the learner can only use one modality for learning; visual learners must see it to learn it. A better approach is multi-modal, including both lecture and visuals as well as other senses. Multiple means of representing content is better supported by research such as dual code theory and is a main component of Universal Design for Learning

Scholarly articles and books on learning styles:

Pashler, Harold, McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 103-119. Link.


Metacognition is "thinking about thinking" and applying this to your own learning process. According to cognitive scientist and educator Stephen Chew, what you think about while studying is foundational to learning. He defines metacognition as "a student's awareness of their level of understanding of a topic" and has developed an excellent video tutorial series for students on applying metacognition to studying.

There are many strategies for promoting metacognition in students: 

  • The Pause : Simply taking time for reflection during class can help consolidate content. This could take the form of a quick Q&A or a minute paper on how new content relates or changes their ideas.
  • Confidence Based Assessment: is based on metacognition. In it, accurately self-assessing how well one understands a topic can be measured and graphed by polling students after an exam on what grade they think they earned. Comparing this with their actual grade reveals something about their metacognition, and their study habits.
  • Cognitive wrappers : “Wrap up” after assessments with this form of feedback that requires students to reflect on their performance through questioning how well they studied, where they went wrong and could have done better. Teaching Naked Techniques authors Bowen and Watson offer a free cognitive wrapper template here .

Metacognition can be outlined for students as a series of sequential questions.

Ask before doing

  • What are my learning goals?
  • How much time will be required?
  • Which strategies should I use?
  • What resources might I need?

Ask while doing

  • Is this making sense?
  • Am I going too fast?
  • Do I need to make changes?
  • Do I have a clear understanding of what I am doing?

Ask after doing

  • Did I reach my learning goal?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What could I do differently?

Instructors can model metacognition using some simple strategies:

Think Aloud: Articulating the mental process one is going through

Metacognitive Reflection: Reflect > Tell > Share > Consider

Comparing to an Expert:

  • Students do a skill > Articulate how they did it
  • Analyze how an expert did it > Compare how they did it to the expert
  • Provide a step-by-step plan to do the skill again

Consider also some of these discussion prompts to encourage reflection on the learning process.

Adapted from “Metacognition” on the Evidence-based Learning and Instructional Techniques for Educators website. University of North Carolina, Eshelman School of Pharmacy: 

The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University has an extensive guide on the theoretical background and practical application of metacognition.

Metacognition on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on metacognition

Scholarly articles and books on metacognition:

Ambrose, S. (2010). How Learning Works : Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library.

List, A., & Alexander, P. (2015). Examining response confidence in multiple text tasks. Metacognition & Learning, 10(3), 407-436. Sherrod Library.

Tanner, Kimberly D. (2012). Promoting student metacognition. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 11, 113-120. Link.


Mindfulness can be applied to learning in many ways. Jon Kabat-Zin's approach involves paying attention in particular ways: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Involving various forms of meditation, relaxation, breathing, and movement exercises, mindful practices have been shown to positively effect academic and social outcomes by helping students focus, pay attention, and persist through challenges.

Ellen Langer's approach to mindfulness defines it as a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things, and sensitive to context. Research from this approach has developed many techniques that can be directly applied in the classroom and online.

Mindfulness on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on mindfulness

Scholarly articles and books on mindfulness:

Hart, Rona, Ivtzan, Itai, & Hart, Dan. (2013). Mind the gap in mindfulness research: A comparative account of the leading schools of thought. Review of General Psychology, 17(4), 453-466. Sherrod Library.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 145-156. doi: 10./1093/clipsy/bpg016

Langer, E. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning. Reading, Mass. : Perseus Books. Sherrod Library.

Rogers, H., & Maytan, M. (2012). Mindfulness for the next Generation : Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press. Sherrod Library.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., . . . Posner, M. (2007). Short-Term Meditation Training Improves Attention and Self-Regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(43), 17152-17156. Retrieved from


"In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I'm going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here's a chance to grow."       - Carol Dweck

Mindset Infographic

Help Students Develop a Mastery Mindset by Alison Barton

Mindsets on the CTE Resource Center

Scholarly articles and books on mindsets:

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset : The New Psychology of Success. New York : Random House.

Rattan, A., Savani, K., Chugh, D., & Dweck, C. (2015). Leveraging mindsets to promote academic achievement. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(6), 721-726. Sherrod Library.

Ricci, M., & Prufrock Press , publisher. (2015). Ready-to-use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom : Everything Teachers Need for Classroom Success. Waco, Texas : Prufrock Press Inc. Sherrod Library.


Did You Know There Are Different Kinds of Motivation?

Motivation is typically divided into two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. This categorization has largely to do with the kinds of goals associated with each.

Extrinsic motivation is associated with what are called performance goals . Students with performance goals want to do well because they will receive some external recognition for their achievement. Grades, praise, and other recognition by authority figures are standard external rewards that are sought by students.

Intrinsic motivation is associated with mastery goals . A student with a mastery goal wants to do well because he or she wants to become more knowledgeable or expert about the topic being learned. Curiosity and a thirst for more knowledge drive intrinsic motivation.

So which type of motivation is better?

Experts largely agree that the key to getting students to really learn about subject matter is to tap into their intrinsic motivation. This can be a challenge in the university setting, because assessment of knowledge and grades are typically built-in requisites for courses. Students easily become focused on getting the right grade, passing a course, and/or satisfying graduation requirements over learning course material for the sake - and joy - of knowing it.

Our goal as instructors, then, is to try and redirect students' priorities away from grades and toward the value of knowledge (not an easy task!). Specific strategies will follow, but one general approach can be to assure students:

If you are passionate about learning this topic, your grade will naturally and positively reflect it.

What Can I Do to Increase My Students' Intrinsic Motivation?

A number of experts have recommendations for how to tap into people's intrinsic motivation, no matter the context. Each of the following overview suggestions will link to a page with specific applications that can integrate those suggestions into your course - whether on-ground or online.


Motivation on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on Motivation

Scholarly articles and books on Motivation:

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. New York, NY: Random House.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don't students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

By Alison Barton


Questioning is a crucial element of active learning. Students who can find answers may pass tests but students who can ask good questions can take more control of their learning.

Questioning was a main focus of ETSU's INtopFORM Quality Enhancement Plan (2013-2018). Presentations and materials from INtopFORM workshops are available here.

Questioning on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on Questioning

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)

How do students best learn? What teaching methods work best? How can you best apply evidence-based insights to your discipline or class? "The scholarship of teaching and learning encompasses a broad set of practices that engage teachers in looking closely and critically at student learning for the purpose of improving their own courses and programs" using an approach that applies "scholarly inquiry to any of the intellectural tasks that comprise the work of teaching -- designing a course, facilitating classroom activities, trying out new pedagogical ideas, advising, writing student learning outcomes, evaluating programs" (Hutching, Huber, & Ciccone, 2011).

Learn more from this video highlight from Elon University's Center for Engaged Learning.


Scholarship of Teaching and Learning on the CTE Resource Center

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Digital Commons at ETSU

Seminar scholarly articles and books on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning:

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library.

Felten, Peter. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 121-125.

Gurung, R. A. R., and B. M. Schwartz. 2012. Optimizing Teaching and Learning: Practicing Pedagogical Research. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Haynie, A., Chick, N. L., & Gurung, R. R. (2009). Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Sterling, Va: Stylus Publishing. Sherrod Library.

Hutchings, P., M. T. Huber., and A. Ciccone. 2011. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered: Institutional Impact. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

SoTL can include designing a course, facilitating classroom activities, trying out new pedagogical ideas, advising, writing student learning outcomes, evaluating programs. Some published examples of SoTL at ETSU include the following. Click here for a more comprehensive list of ETSU SoTL related published research:

Baryla, E., Shelley, G., & Trainor, W. (2012). Transforming rubrics using factor analysis. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 17(4), 2012. Link.

Buerkle, C. W., & Gearhart, C. C. (2017). Students See, Students Do?: Inducing a Peer Norm Effect for Oral Source Citations. Communication Research Reports, 34(2) p.115-123.

Garman, D. E., & Good, D. W. (2012). Student Success: A Comparison of Face- to-face and Online Sections of Community College Biology Course Review of Higher Education & Self Learn. Review of Higher Education & Self Learning, 5(16), p. 179. Available at: 

Nivens, R. A., & Gann, R. R. (2014). Teaching undergraduates how to analyze. The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education, 4(3). 103-107. Link.

Spicer-Sutton, J., Lampley, J. & Good, D. W. (2014). Self-Assessment and Student Improvement in an Introductory Computer Course at the Community College Level 1. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 10(1) p. 59-66. 

Science of Learning

How do humans best learn? How can we best apply our own experiences and results of research on the psychology of learning? Dr. Alison Barton gives a general overview of several theoretical approaches with links to further research and resources for practical application in the college classroom.

Cognitive Theories

These theories focus on how the brain (or mind) works when it encounters information.

Social Theories

Theories in this category emphasize the value of social interactions in the learning process.

Behavioral Theories

Behavioral theories focus on only what is observable - people's behaviors - to explain learning. Therefore, much focus is placed on cause and effect, or antecedent-behavior-consequence patterns. Note: Some people classify Bandura's theory [above] within this category.

  • Skinner's Behavioral Theory


Science of Learning on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on science of learning

Scholarly articles and books on science of learning:

Ambrose, S. (2010). How learning works : Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass. Sherrod Library.

Brown, P. C., McDaniel, M. A., & Roediger, H. L. (2014). Make It Stick. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Sherrod Library.

Doyle, T., Zakrajsek, T., & Loeb, J. H. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Teaching that sticks. Excerpted from Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. New York: Random House. Link.

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Najjar, M. (1995). Dual coding as a possible explanation for the effects of multimedia on learning. School of Psychology and Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology. Technical Report GIT-GVU-95-29. Link.

Willingham, D. T. (2003). Students remember... what they think about. Ask the Cognitive Scientist column. Link

Willingham, D. T. (2009). What will improve a student's memory? Ask the Cognitive Scientist column. Link


Service Learning


service learning action shot

"Involve me and I learn."

-Benjamin Franklin

Service-Learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development.

Some examples of Service-Learning:

  • Criminal Justice majors might choose to mentor a juvenile offender or serve with a local law enforcement agency working with prisoners or even some sort of school-prevention program, like DARE.
  • A math class tutors at a local grade school, working with students in danger of failing.
  • Some students in an accounting class works with a local agency that cannot afford to hire someone to do simple bookkeeping or they may assist with the budget process.
  • A health class works in an underprivileged housing edition to educate the community on subjects like drug and alcohol awareness.
  • A Spanish class works with local migrant workers and their children, teaching ESL classes.
  • An English class collects oral histories pertaining to the operation of a one-room school; the histories are used to help establish the school as a living history site. A following semester students help landscape and prepare the school for opening based on the previously collected oral histories.

ETSU promotes and implements service learning projects through the Office of Service Learning. See their website for more information and resources.

Team-Based Learning

Team-Based Learning (TBL) is a more organized form of group or collaborative learning in which much or all of class time is used by groups actively working on learning modules. According to the Team-Based Learning Collaborative organization, the modules "are taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application-focused exercise. A class typically includes one module."

TBL is successfully practiced at ETSU by many teachers and programs. See for instance our profile of Dr. Sarah Melton to find out how she uses this innovative approach in her classes.

Active Learning on the CTE Resource Center

ETSU Tips on Active Learning

icon for left menu icon for right menu