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Work in Progress: Barriers Instructors Encounter when Using Active Learning in an Online Classroom Setting

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Faculty Perspectives of Active Learning, Inequity, and Curricular Change

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Lea K. Marlor University of Michigan

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Lea Marlor is a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, studying Engineering Education Research. She joined the University of Michigan in Sept 2019.

Previously, she was the Associate Director for Education for the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science, a NSF-funded Science and Technology Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She managed undergraduate research programs to recruit and retain underrepresented students in science and engineering and also outreach to pre-college students to introduce them to science and engineering career opportunities. Ms. Marlor joined University of California, Berkeley in 2013. She has a B.S. in Materials Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Cynthia J. Finelli University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cynthia Finelli is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Professor of Education, and Director and Graduate Chair for Engineering Education Research Programs at University of Michigan (U-M). Dr. Finelli is a fellow in the American Society of Engineering Education, a Deputy Editor of the Journal for Engineering Education, an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education, and past chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of ASEE. She founded the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering at U-M in 2003 and served as its Director for 12 years. Prior to joining U-M, Dr. Finelli was the Richard L. Terrell Professor of Excellence in Teaching, founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Kettering University.

Dr. Finelli's current research interests include student resistance to active learning, faculty adoption of evidence-based teaching practices, and the use of technology and innovative pedagogies on student learning and success. She also led a project to develop a taxonomy for the field of engineering education research, and she was part of a team that studied ethical decision-making in engineering students.

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Laura J. Carroll University of Michigan

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Laura Carroll is a PhD candidate in Engineering Education Research at the University of Michigan. Laura's research interests are focused on academic success of neurodiverse STEM students, faculty development and change, and instructional barriers to implementing active learning.

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This work-in-progress paper seeks to identify the barriers faculty face when using active learning in an online setting. Much research has been conducted in the past that focuses on the barriers that faculty face when trying to implement active learning in their STEM classrooms, but little has been done to address if similar barriers exist in online instruction. Past research has found that faculty barriers to using active learning in a face-to-face setting could be broken into seven main categories: infrastructure/culture, lack of knowledge or skills in effective teaching practices, fear of student resistance, time/effort, classroom and curriculum, teacher disposition, and community (Finelli, et al., 2014). With the sudden shift in classroom instruction to online settings, this paper seeks to answer what barriers exist for faculty using active learning in an online setting using this previously established framework for face-to-face instruction.

In order to answer this question, 32 instructors from across the Midwest participated in online focus groups that sought to identify these barriers. The instructors were broken into four categories, based on the type of schools in which they were teaching at (doctoral granting, masters granting, bachelors granting, and associates colleges) and recruitment aimed to have equal participation from each category. During the one-hour focus groups, instructors were asked about what barriers they faced as well as what they perceived to be the largest barrier when trying to implement active learning into their online classes. Although this research was conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, instructors were asked to focus on barriers that would be present, regardless of the pandemic.

We found that many of the same barriers exist in the online classroom setting that were found in the previous literature focused on face-to-face instruction. This includes infrastructure (e.g. software licensing, required online platforms such as Canvas or Blackboard), lack of knowledge on how to effectively use active learning in an online setting, student resistance (e.g. students refusing to unmute themselves, students not honestly completing active learning activities), time/effort tied to creating online active learning modules, and classroom and curriculum. An additional barrier found through this work was centered around technology. Many teachers cited both software and hardware as a barrier to using active learning in their online classes. Current technologies do not allow teachers to easily sense or “read the room” to know and understand if their students are following in the activities. Additionally, instructors described a difficulty in building an online class rapport that is conducive to students working together through activities. This paper will present a preliminary analysis of the data collected with a focus on all of the barriers faculty cited, as well as those the faculty indicated as being their largest in using online active learning.

Marlor, L. K., & Finelli, C. J., & Carroll, L. J. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Barriers Instructors Encounter when Using Active Learning in an Online Classroom Setting Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38125

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