Students’ perceptions of active learning: Experiences from a course on urban ecological research


  • Fritz Kleinschroth ETH Zürich



Preparing the next generation to address current and future ecological challenges requires creative and collaborative ways of problem framing and solving. Active learning formats have the potential to support the development of skills needed to address these challenges. For future development of active learning formats, it is important to understand students’ perceptions of different aspects of their learning experience and outcomes. This article is based on students’ feedback from a practical course on urban ecological research. In small groups, students develop a hypothesis and research design, conduct fieldwork, and then analyse and present the results. After completion of the course, I collected qualitative feedback from students and then coded it to assess students’ perception of their active learning experiences, separated by course framing, group work and supervision. The results show that students appreciate the independence to explore real-world problems in a supportive group atmosphere. Within group work, the division of tasks is perceived to lead to more efficiency, but at the same time hinders learning new skills if roles are distributed based on existing experience. Further challenges stem from the trade-offs between students who prefer closer supervision with pre-provided contents and those who perceive close supervision as disruptive or a lack of trust. I discuss how, according to self-determination theory, the learning climate provided by course framing, group work and supervision can strike a balance between needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. To improve, I suggest a predictable supervisory structure and full transparency to students about the active learning goals and challenges.


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