Mark Hofer, Ph.D College of William & Mary
Each new class session brings a fresh opportunity for us to experiment with new ways to engage our students in their learning. As we design or redesign our courses, we have considerable latitude to create the kind of learning experiences – face-to-face, blended, or online – that will help them develop critical thinking and disciplinary skills.
The scholarship of teaching and learning abounds with examples of innovative approaches and strategies that go beyond traditional forms of lecture and discussion. For example, case studies (e.g., DiPietro & Huston, 2009), collaborative simulations (e.g., Olson, 2012), cooperative and team-based learning (e.g., Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2014; Michaelsen, Davidson, & Howell Major, 2014), problem-based learning (e.g., Savin-Baden, 2014), and community action (e.g., Yaghi & Alibeli, 2014), just to name a few!
It is a difficult task to explore or consider the varied alternatives, particularly when they are discussed in multiple publications and presentations. Even the excellent texts that assist us in designing our courses and matching learning activities with content and instructional goals (e.g., Fink, 2013; Nilson, 2010) do not offer a comprehensive collection and description of the pedagogies used in college teaching.
To assist in this exploration of alternative teaching strategies, the Higher Education Learning Activity Types (HELAT) Taxonomy was developed. I invite you to explore it with me.
The Higher Education Learning Activity Types Taxonomy (HELAT)
The HELAT taxonomy provides a collection of learning activities in a format to help both novice and experienced faculty to expand their teaching practice. The learning activities represented constitute as comprehensive a list of pedagogies for higher education referenced in the literature as possible.
The taxonomy is currently comprised of 20 learning activity types. They range from the time-tested (e.g., lecture and discussion, reading text, writing/responding) to more student-centered approaches (e.g., explore a topic, conduct inquiry/research) to more practice-based models (e.g., participate in fieldwork, engage in service learning. No particular pedagogical stance is privileged in the taxonomy; rather, the purpose of the HELAT is to provide us with the full range of learning experiences we can leverage in our teaching to create what Fink (2013) calls “significant learning experiences.”
Each learning activity is named and described. In addition, possible digital and non-digital technologies that can support each activity are suggested. For example, this is how Compare/Contrast appears in the taxonomy:
The descriptions in the taxonomy are meant to be a refresher or starting point for us to begin to explore them in their teaching. On the Luminaris Web site, we can find further descriptions, key features, examples and resources for each of the 20 learning activity types in the taxonomy (http://luminaris.link/taxonomy).
Navigating the Taxonomy
To make the taxonomy easier to navigate as well as to provide a strategic entry point to the activities, the taxonomy is divided into six categories based on the revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). The learning activity types are categorized by the relative level of cognitive activity required of students (i.e., remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create). Due to the focus on levels of student learning outcomes reflected in Bloom’s taxonomy, the activities are framed from the student perspective.
An overview of the HELAT taxonomy is offered below. For more a more detailed version of the taxonomy, along with links to example course activities, please visit http://luminaris.link/taxonomy.
Using the Taxonomy in Planning
The activity types included in the taxonomy are simply the building blocks that can be used to structure a course activity, assignment, class session, or entire course schedule. As we select and combine them, we can create rigorous, meaningful, and relevant experiences for our students. Once content topics and learning goals are selected, we can begin to imagine the type of learning experience we wish to create.
If, for example, students in an upper level course have significant prior knowledge and experience related to a course topic, it may be most appropriate to consider activities from the analyze, evaluate and create categories for major assignments in the course. Conversely, in early stages of an introductory course, students may need to build their knowledge focusing primarily on those activities in the remember and understand categories.
The primary benefit of the taxonomy is to provide us with options that we can consider for different teaching scenarios (Harris & Hofer, 2011). In the two examples noted above, it may be common to rely primarily on reading text and attending to lectures as strategies to help students build their knowledge. As the taxonomy demonstrates, however, we might also choose to incorporate discussion or debate, conducting interviews, or explorations of the topic as alternative methods. As we vary the learning activities in a course, we help to remove barriers to learning and increase both student engagement and achievement (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014).
This taxonomy is intended as a starting point that we can use for our instructional planning. As new pedagogical strategies emerge, the taxonomy will evolve. As such, it is a living document that will be improved based on our feedback as we explore and work with it. I encourage you to visit http://luminaris.link/taxonomy and strategically incorporate a new strategy as you plan your next course – or even your next lesson. Join us in our continued refinements by contributing feedback via the comments link.
Most importantly, use the HELAT taxonomy as a tool to strategically plan your course design and redesign.
Anderson, L.W. & Krathwohl, D.R. (eds.). (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.
DiPietro, M., & Huston, T. (2009). A theory and framework for navigating entangled consultations: Using case studies to find common ground. Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning, 1, 7-37.
Fink, L.D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Harris, J.B. & Hofer, M.J. (2011). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) in action: A descriptive study of secondary teachers’ curriculum-based, technology-related instructional planning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(3), 211-229.
Harris, J. B., Hofer, M. J., Blanchard, M. R., Grandgenett, N. F., Schmidt, D. A., van Olphen, M., & Young, C. A. (2010). “Grounded” technology integration: Instructional planning using curriculum-based activity type taxonomies. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 18(4), 573-605.
Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Co- operative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85-118.
Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST, Inc.
Michaelsen, L. K., Davidson, N., & Major, C. H. (2014). Team-based learning practices and principles in com- parison with cooperative learning and problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 57-84.
Olson, K. S. (2012). Making it real: Using a collaborative simulation to teach crisis communications. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 23 (2), 25-47.
Savin-Baden, M. (2014). Using problem-based learning: New constellations for the 21st century. Journal on Excel- lence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 197-219.
Yaghi, A. & Alibeli, M. (2014). Solving real community problems to improve the teaching of public affairs. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(1), 27-53.
1 This blog is based in part on a presentation made at the 2015 Lilly Conference in Bethesda, MD.