Traditional lectures typically involve the teacher standing at the front of the class talking to the students. Starting small with challenge-based active learning generally means utilising ChallengeHub to gradually reduce the time spent standing at the front of the class, focusing on what is most important for the students and making the whole experience more efficient for everyone.

Making classes more efficient

A key point to remember is that ChallengeHub exists to make classes more efficient, and is not simply an alternative form of homework. A typical first approach is to replace part of the lecture with challenges, with students looking up information themselves in the designated resources listed in each challenge. As usual, the resources in the challenge should cover what you would have lectured about, and the question in the challenge should reflect the expected learning, usually covering a specific concept.

Points are not usually assigned for completing challenges by weekly deadlines, and this is for good reason. A key element of making classes useful is to have students be grouped into teams that can help each other, and for this to work well a positive learning environment where students come to the class with questions should be encouraged. This does not prevent a broad requirement about having most challenges completed by the end of the course, for example, but short-term fluctuations in progress is a healthy part of learning, promoting internal motivation.

Challenges and homework

In cases where homework has traditionally been part of the course, it is important to make clear to students the distinction between homework and challenges. Teachers typically gradually phase out homework in favour of formative challenges, but they can be run alongside each other as long as the distinction is maintained. Having students hand homework in at the beginning of class can ensure the discussion time is used as intended.

Adapting according to student response

With students discussing and working on challenges, the required lecture time is reduced. In addition, real-time monitoring of student progress makes lecture preparation more efficient and the class time genuinely useful to the students. The time not spent giving class-wide explanations can be spent walking round the classroom interacting with students as they discuss difficulties with challenges in their teams.

After students have got used to the initial changes of the class format, it can be enlightening to run a survey asking the students if they would prefer to return to the lecture style or prefer the challenge and discussion style of ChallengeHub.

The final state

Finally, it is worth keeping in mind that challenge-based active learning does not aim to completely change class time to discussion time, but rather aims to replace the lecture with targeted explanations that cover common student issues, or else inspire students to study further. The optimum ratio of explanation time to discussion time depends on the teacher, the subject and the nature of any difficulties students have, but it is typical for teachers to end up with more discussion time than explanation time.

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.