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Sociology, Criminology, and Criminal Justice

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is an approach to instruction that involves actively engaging students with the course material through discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other methods. Active learning approaches place a greater degree of responsibility on the learner than passive approaches such as lectures, but instructor guidance is still crucial in the active learning classroom. Active learning activities may range in length from a couple of minutes to whole class sessions or may take place over multiple class sessions.

Active Learning: Transforming the Educational Experience

  • Engage and Motivate: Capture student attention and increase motivation.

  • Deepen Understanding: Foster problem-solving skills and comprehensive understanding.

  • Assess and Review: Continuously gauge and enhance student comprehension.

  • Personal Relevance: Link course material to students' lives and professional goals.


  • 1-Minute Papers/Reflections

  • Post-it Parade

  • Think-Pair-Share

  • Think Aloud

  • Case Studies

  • Group Text Reading

  • Peer-Review

  • Respond, React, Reply

  • Pro-Con Grids

  • Social Annotation of Text

  • Buzz Groups

  • Complete Turn Taking

  • Round Tables

  • Line-up

  • Debates

  • Dotmocracy

  • Snowball

  • Fishbowl

  • Quescussion

  • Index Card Pass

Applying Active Learning to Sociology, Criminology, and Criminal Justice:

Active-learning strategies can be used to create higher order thinking among/between students. It's important to note that many of these techniques overlap. Below are some examples: 

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning encompasses many educational approaches but simply put it means using    groups to enhance teaching/learning activities by using groups of learners working together to solve problems, complete tasks, or learn new concepts. This approach shifts the learning process from only facts, figures, and memorization to actively engaging/synthesizing new information, concepts, and theories. The goal is to shift away from only using teaching-centered or lecture-centered approaches to more collaborative approaches. Develop learning environments that foster and harness collaborative intelligence and harness productive diversity are two of the main philosophies of New Learning. 

Group research projects are great examples of collaborative learning. Following the logic/principles of both New Learning and Active-Based Learning can be used to create rich learning experiences for students.


Problem-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a  student-centered approach where students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem drives the motivation/learning. PBL can be used to challenge students to activate prior knowledge, provide detail-rich contexts, promote elaborate discussion/decision-making, and to stimulate intrinsic motivation to learn. PBL helps  students develop higher order thinking skills as they investigate ill-defined problems in real-life situations. You might be realizing that this is a perfect fit for many of the learning objectives within sociology, criminology, and criminal justice courses/programs.  


The goal is for students to learn more and enjoy learning more (research supports both) and collaborating  with peers, their instructors, and professionals. Combine this with active knowledge creation and it can be used to create some engaging and beneficial teaching/learning project designs. Following the logic/principles of both New Learning and Active-Based Learning can be used to create rich learning experiences for students.


Service-Experiential Learning

Service (Experiential) Learning (SEL) is not to be confused with on-the-job training like internships. SEL does not focus on the specific acquisition of particular career skills, but rather helps students deepen their knowledge/understanding of course content through experiences in the community and reflection in the classroom. One of the major goals of SEL is to engage students in volunteering in the local community in some way that they are making a real contribution through their service.

These learning experiences can forever shape the lives of learners as citizens, workers, and community members. Following the logic/principles of both New Learning and Active-Based Learning can be used to create rich learning experiences for students.  


Engaging Undergraduates in Research

Engaging students in research can allow them an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom and be a point of expansion for relationships between teacher and student in terms of mentoring, etc. It can be beneficial to teach students basic data coding/entry and descriptive statistics using programs like SPSS. From using existing survey data to conducting interviews/surveys at your institution or in your community, students may have many opportunities to conduct their own research/analyses. Keep in mind your IRB. This can be a component of a course or you can identify students with specific skills, interests, passions, etc., that may benefit from this opportunity for a special topics course credit. 

These learning experiences can provide lifelong skills for learners that are transferrable across other courses/disciplines, work-entry, and life, generally. Following the logic and principles of both New Learning and Active-Based Learning can be used to create rich learning experiences for students. These opportunities align with differentiated instruction and learning principles, where students are allowed to pick projects/topics they are interested in and work at their own pace; topics they are likely to have lifelong interests in.

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