In this post, we review the first two classes of a model course that uses ChallengeHub to facilitate challenge-based active learning.

Course preparation

In ChallengeHub, each group of challenges is called a stint and typically one stint is released (made visible to students) each class. There are usually 6 to 10 challenges per stint. The first stint will contain fewer challenges than later stints because there is less time for discussion in the first class.

Prior to the start of the course a teacher prepares stints for the first two classes, with each timed to be released (made visible to the students) at the beginning of each class. The first stint will simply contain challenges but second stint will typically also include deliberate pairing of students. This “pairing” facilitates peer instruction, whereby students are placed in small teams of two or three and learn by teaching each other.

Class 1

The first class of the semester is special for any course, and the aim of this class is to explain the use of ChallengeHub and the nature of challenge-based active learning to the students.

In this model, the teacher outlines the following to the students:

  • Why challenge-based active learning is more effective and fun for the students than the traditional lecture style they are used to. After all, if students understand why they’re doing something, they’re more likely to engage with it.
  • Information about how to register for the course.
  • Highlight the challenge log as an integral part of student participation.
  • Stress that challenges are different from homework. It’s ok to get things wrong and not complete all the challenges every week.
  • But, there will be a final exam and that this cannot be moved. The best way to prepare for the exam is to complete all the challenges and so in order to achieve a high grade the students are going to need to keep pace with the course.
  • Emphasise that the most efficient way to study is to try doing as many challenges as possible during the week, and then coming to class with questions.
  • Motivation for the course. Why is the course content interesting and useful? Giving students clear cause to study is a major motivator.

Then, if there is time and students have smartphones or computers with them in class already, students may start to work on challenges. At the very least, for those who can, practising interaction with ChallengeHub can be useful. Otherwise, an overview highlighting important issues for the challenges that are released this week may be performed.

Preparation for class 2

Before this and every subsequent class, the teacher will review student progress through the challenges.

  • What challenges did students find particularly difficult? Is a short explanation about a particular challenge required?
  • What do I not need to talk about?
  • What questions are likely to come up?
  • How much progress has been made? Is the planned number of challenges for the following week appropriate?

In addition, class 2 is important because it is the first week that students have been using ChallengeHub, so it will become apparent if any students had any difficulties with it.

Class 2

From the 2nd class, the teacher typically chooses to make use of pairing so that students are in a position to help each other during discussion through a process known as peer instruction.

Although not required, one useful tip is to distribute blank paper and have students fold it into thirds then write their name on one side so that the teacher can quickly identify those with whom one-to-one discussion is desired, or can cross-reference a name with a real-time view of that student’s progress during the class.

After students are seated, if the teacher desires, they can now perform a short targeted explanation, covering any challenges that the students had difficulty with, or perhaps to motivate the next topic. This also serves to “start” the class and focus the students’ minds on the subject. The class then turns to discussion time.

During discussion time, students discuss difficulties and help each other. Since students may not be used to this, they may be reticent to start. A typical “ice-breaker” is to give students 2 minutes to write down the one thing that their partner found most difficult about the past week’s challenges.

Students then discuss difficulties with each other, while the teacher circulates around class. This is an opportunity for the teacher to listen in on the conversations that are taking place, talk with individual students and answer any questions.

The teacher typically releases new challenges at the beginning of the class, so that any students that have completed all the challenges and have nothing further to discuss may start working on new challenges. Any challenges that are not completed by the end of the class remain as homework. The most able students may finish most challenges by the end of the class.

Class N

Finally, remember that there will inevitably be bumps along the way, as the teacher finds what works best for him or her personally. This is the nature of innovation. Keep learning from your experience and iterate over time to achieve a better experience for students and teacher alike. Always keep in mind the key elements for effective challenge-based active learning: Are students more internally motivated? Is students’ study more efficient? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you’re on the right path.

James Cannon

Dr James Cannon is an Associate Professor at Kyushu University.
He is the creator of challenge-based active learning and a founder @ChallengeHub.