During today’s Science Fiction class, we began discussing volume 1 of Mary Shelley’s 1831 edition of Frankenstein. After a brief lecture on Mary Shelley, her family, and the fateful June 1816 trip to Switzerland, I wanted to talk about how historical and cultural forces made it possible for a work like Frankenstein to come into existence. However, instead of lecturing about the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and Romanticism (and the Gothic), I decided to roll out an active learning exercise to facilitate peer learning. I divided my students into teams of three based on where they were sitting in the class. I reminded them to swap contact information with each other for sharing notes, studying, etc. Then, I explained the exercise to the class as a whole: I would assign each team a topic to research for 20 minutes using Wikipedia and EDU TLD sources on their laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Of course, I said that they could also rely on any knowledge that they already have, but they will have to share that knowledge with their team mates. While researching and talking about their assigned topic, they should compile a list of the most important ideas and/or figures and teach the class those topics. I walked around the class and told each group their assigned topic from the list above. After about 15 minutes I saw that the teams had completed the task, so I asked them to wrap it up and I called for a team to volunteer to present. Each team gave a superlative summary that I could add to, build on, and reference during our discussion of Frankenstein. I asked the students if they liked the exercise. There was no response, and my question was probably not a fair one to ask. Next, I asked if they learned something from the exercise, and they unanimously said, yes! Now that I’ve seen active learning work in my classroom, I will definitely think of other active, peer learning exercises to keep my classes dynamic and engaging for my students.
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