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The Art Of Creating An Active Learning Environment

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1122.1 - 7.1122.9



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Richard Goff

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Main Menu Session 2793

The Art of Creating an Active Learning Environment

Richard M. Goff

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Active learning is truly the key to education. To paraphrase Piaget, …in order for a student to understand something she must construct it herself, she must re-invent it. As an award-winning teacher, I have been involved in engineering education for roughly 15 years. During my tenure, I have seen and employed many teaching methods and philosophies. One observation that seems to be constant though it all is that students who are engaged in the learning process master the material. Students who are not engaged generally do not succeed. The best way to engage students is to create an exciting active learning environment.

Life for students today is different than it was twenty years ago. Today there are many concurrent distractions competing for their attention. Television, cell phones, relationships, Internet, and world events impact them simultaneously. To compete with this constant barrage of information and distraction, we need to create a learning environment that speaks to students where they are and how they are listening. One-dimensional, lecture classes have a very hard time competing for the attention of today’s student. A multidimensional approach is called for. One that addresses diverse learning styles and encourages student engagement through the artful creation of a stimulating learning environment.

This paper describes the theory behind active learning, the art of creating an active learning environment, and successful examples of active learning thorough collaborative hands-on exercises and multidisciplinary design activities. It then discusses obstacles to success such as increased preparation time and selling the concept to “old school” faculty. Finally, it addresses student and faculty reactions to a student centered active classroom and the positive outcomes of implementing an active learning environment for students of engineering.


Until recently, most engineering education has focused on imparting a certain abstract body of knowledge. This education was designed to move students to a point where they are capable and competent in the use of the principles and techniques needed to solve engineering and design problems. However, minimal effort has been put into making the problem solving activities relevant, interesting, challenging, and fun. Engineering education has traditionally been very analytical. Only a small amount of educational time is spent on hands-on design activities. It is, in fact, these hands-on design activities that most incoming students perceive as “engineering”,

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Goff, R. (2002, June), The Art Of Creating An Active Learning Environment Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10408

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