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Active Learning Elements in General Education Courses

Teams are found throughout the modern workplace, so much so that the Penn State alumni recommended that the Penn State undergraduate educational experience include more teamwork experience. As a result, the General Education requirements now includes an Active Learning Elements component which can be satisfied teamwork component, specifically:

Active Learning Elements for General Education Courses

These elements were approved on February 27, 2001

RATIONALE: Students should be actively involved in a significant part of their own learning in all General Education courses at Penn State. Through the use of active learning in assignments, exercises, and other formal activities associated with a course, students become engaged participants in the particular course's content and, simultaneously, build competencies, skills, and abilities that are necessary to promote learning in any situation.

ELEMENTS: Knowledge domain courses must require each student to engage in activities promoting learning course content through practicing, typically, three or more of the following:

  1. Writing, speaking and/or other forms of self-expression

  2. Information gathering, such as the use of the library, computer/electronic resources and experimentation or observation

  3. Synthesis and analysis in problem solving and critical thinking, including, where appropriate, the application of reasoning and interpretive methods and quantitative thinking

  4. Collaborative learning and teamwork

  5. Activities that promote the understanding of issues pertaining to social behavior, scholarly conduct and community responsibility

  6. a significant alternative competency for active learning designed for and appropriate to a specific course

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What benefits does the workplace reap from teams?

Teams are found in many workplace environments, including corporate, government and education, because they allow the organization to:

  1. Accomplish projects an individual cannot do - Many projects in the workplace are too large or too complex for one individual to complete alone. Imagine trying to build the Golden Gate Bridge all by yourself!

  2. Brainstorm More Solution Options - Different people looking at the same problem will find different solutions. A team can review ideas and put together a final solution which incorporates the best individual ideas.

  3. Detect Flaws in Solutions - A team looking at different proposed solutions may also find pitfalls that an individual might miss. The final solution is that much stronger.

  4. Build a Workplace Community - Members of effective teams can form personal bonds which are good for individual and workplace morale. In the university setting, students on teams may form bonds which extend beyond the classroom.

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What other benefits do students get from teamwork?

In addition to preparing for their future careers, student also benefit from teamwork in the following ways:

  1. Exposure to different points of view - As students are exposed to methods and ideas that other students have, they learn different ways of approaching a problem.

  2. Communication Skills - A team relies on communication among members. Through teamwork training and practice, students can learn to:

    1. Actively and effectively listen to their team members to understand their ideas and concerns.
    2. Effectively articulate their ideas or their concerns to others.
    3. Provide genuinely constructive feedback to team members.


  3. Critical Thinking and Evaluation Skills - Students must use these skills to evaluate the complex issues of team project goals and to formulate appropriate solutions and plans.

  4. Conflict Resolution Skills - Yes, teams have conflicts, but, with the right support and training in communication skills, students can learn the skills to facilitate solutions to conflicts so that the team remains functional.

  5. Students may do more academic work - Some students may accomplish more in order to keep up with the rest of the team. This can be a combination of now wanting to let the team down or not wanting to look unprepared. One French writing course did see an increase in student writing once collaborative assignments were introduced.

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Cohen, Elizabeth G. (1986) Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press

Jacques, David (1984) Learning in Groups, Second Edition. London: Croom Helm.

Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson and Mary Beth Stanne (2001) "Cooperative Learning Methods: A Meta Analysis" Ms. University of Minnesota

Penn State University (2001) "Active Learning Elements in General Education Courses."

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