ALN Conference: July 2022

Active learning: learning where students work with the information rather than passively receiving it. A good definition and further explanation are provided in this article.


The Active Learning Network conference took place online on 20th July.

With sessions from 15 to 45 minutes we learned about a range of active learning practices taking place across the UK and internationally. A few highlights included:

How coffee can improve your ability to use a language: Active language learning through cultural immersion experiences

Sophia Zevgoli, from Deree College (The American College of Greece) introduced us to an activity used with language learners; an experiential class at a café. Students observe Modern Greek culture, interact, and then reflect critically on the experience. This not only helps with language learning, but situates the learning in a real context and acknowledges the importance of cultural differences in communication. The reflection forms a key part of the exercise, and allows learners to challenge their own and each other’s beliefs and biases around Greek culture.

Using creative reflection methods to foster active learning

Jamie Heywood from Anglia Ruskin University demonstrated creative reflection techniques. These included visual prompts (images, gifs, emojis) and symbolism (such as music or film titles) as a starting point for students to communicate their impressions of an experience. He also introduced models such as Mirror, Microscope, Binoculars.

Co-creation, gamification and student engagement

Amy Stickels and Anna Tranter from the University of Warwick presented weekly multiple choice quizzes with a twist – they were co-created by the students. Students competed not just to get good marks on the quiz, but to set the most challenging question for their peers. As the activity was repeated each week, students soon picked up how to set questions that required application of knowledge rather than just remembering facts – deepening their own knowledge in the process. It was noted that this activity worked best with smaller cohorts, and required a certain amount of moderation of the questions.

Co-designing an active learning module for ESD within a food science degree

Kieran Higgins from Queen’s University Belfast talked about designing a module with the UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Bootcamp, to embed both active learning and sustainable development goals into the module. This included getting students to use Microsoft Power BI to work with and visualise data.

Using the EscapeIF system to create cooperative storytelling games for the classroom

Scott Nicholson from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada showed us EscapeIF – his educational storytelling system (a combination of escape games and interactive fiction), designed specifically for low-resource classrooms. While his examples focused on younger learners, his clear explanation of how to design such activities, beginning with learning outcomes, developing the narrative and weaving realistic challenges into the story, could be used to develop resources at any level.

Designing for active learning: A simple framework for engaging students in the classroom

Nancy Winfrey, from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, described how the process of active learning corresponds with how the brain learns (based on Kolb’s Learning Cycle and neuroscience research), and introduced four keywords to help design learning based on this cycle:

  • Anchor – relate to students’ current knowledge and experience
  • Add – introduce new information
  • Apply – facilitate activities which allow students to process the new information
  • Away – encourage students to use their learning in a different context


You can access further information about all the sessions on the conference website.

The keynotes from University of Glasgow and Coventry University highlighted that active learning benefits from engagement at senior levels, with infrastructure designed for that purpose, including both the physical learning spaces and the online environment. At UWE we are already making progress, with the design of our new buildings incorporating more collaborative learning and practice based spaces (such as the School of Engineering), and work progressing with the Transforming Assessment project and review of some of our digital learning tools.

We are now looking to establish a local Active Learning Network satellite group. Please contact Beth Hammond if you are a member of UWE staff interested in bringing more active learning to courses you teach or support.


Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels