Active Learning Pedagogies

During the 2019-2020 academic year The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI)) conducted an assessment project to examine how the new Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs) were designed and being used at the University of Toronto St. George campus. The following report explored administrative vision for developing ALCs, the instructors’ pedagogical decision-making and teaching experience in various types of ALCs, and pedagogical support—existing or required—that facilitated opportunities for Active Learning in the ALCs.

Assessing Targeted Objectives of the Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) Project: Active Learning Classrooms at U of T (PDF)

CTSI Summary of Recommendations: Assessment of Active Learning Classrooms at U of T (PDF)

Transforming the Instructional Landscape: What is Active Learning at the University of Toronto?

Note, the following definition was composed from the literature on active learning, but honed for our particular context after a series of interviews with U of T faculty teaching in active learning classrooms, administrators and staff members.

Common active learning attributes include:

  • learning processes that require students to collect and synthesize information, practice critical thinking, and engage in problem solving activities
  • emulate real-life situations that graduates will experience in a professional setting
  • role and goal of self-regulation aimed at understanding one’s learning needs, content knowledge and discipline-specific methods, and to take action to improve in the identified areas
  • sharing of agency between instructor/students
  • active learning can also be enhanced with technology

For each active learning environment there is a consideration of a continuum (simple to complex) of instructional strategies to engage learners in the learning process:

Engaging Students in Active Learning at UTM. (2017). (EdTech Conference sponsored by U of T Engineering): UTM faculty, librarians and staff discuss their active learning classrooms and teaching in these ALCs.

Learn more about U of T’s Academic and Campus Events (ACE) Transforming the Instructional Landscape initiative.

“Goodbye Lecture Halls, Hello Active Learning Spaces”
“How to Shake Up Active Learning Assumptions”
CTSI wrote two articles for Harvard Business Publishing Education on active learning classrooms and practices at U of T.

Resources to Support Active Learning at U of T

Please note: resources linked to outside institutions might use definitions for active learning and active learning classrooms that differ from U of T’s but offer useful advice and perspectives on specific pieces.


Teaching in Myhal 150 with Sarah Mayes-Tang, Department of Mathematics, FAS:


TEAL: A SLACKER’S GUIDE TO ACTIVE LEARNING: a presentation (recorded on Friday, May 04, 2018) by Sehoya Cotner, Dept of Biology and Learning, University of Minnesota on making the move to teach in an active learning classroom.

How can you incorporate active learning into your classroom? A resource from the University of Windsor with assignment and activity suggestions.

Active Learning and Engagement Activities: the questions and concerns to consider while planning an active learning course (from the University of Texas at Austin)

Active Learning in Higher Education, an online publication produced by Sage Journals


Teaching in Myhal 150 with Sarah Mayes-Tang, Department of Mathematics, FAS:

Active Learning and Adapting Teaching Techniques provides an overview of active learning and a series of in-class activities to engage your students.

Classroom Management: Active Learning Classrooms (new page): tips on addressing challenges such as time, room layout and technology.

Adventures in Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classrooms: a conference poster on the use of active learning practices in various UTM classrooms.
Laughton, S., Scoville, C., Richter, C., Hinic-Frlog, S., Zingaro, D., Fukuzawa, S., & Boyd, C. (2016). Adventures in Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classrooms. Canada International Conference on Education (CICE). Mississauga, Ontario.

Instructors’ Toolkit: How to Deal with Technology in Your Classroom? (University of Waterloo): tips on managing students’ use of technology (laptops, tablets and other electronic devices) in the classroom

TEAL: STUDENTS AS EXAMINERS – Crowd-Sourced Exam Preparation: presentation of PeerWise by Prof. Paul Denny of the University of Aukland.

TEAL Session (Part 1): Instructor and TA Experiences teaching in a TEAL Room: session led by Sanja Hinić-Frlog and Christoph Richter, both Associate Professors, Teaching Stream, Biology, UTM
TEAL Session (Part 2): Instructor and TA Experiences teaching in a TEAL Room: session led by Saima Ali and Valentin Peretroukhin, TAs for ESC103 – Engineering Mathematics and Computations

Session links and information from EdTech Workshop 2019 – Beyond Hammers: Building a Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) Toolkit

Active Learning Techniques: A resource from the University of Windsor with assignment and activity suggestions for in-class, online and self study.

Active Learning Activities: a range of teaching tips and techniques from the University of Waterloo

Active Learning Techniques: this list of active learning techniques from the University of Manitoba is paired with technology tips.            

Instructional Strategies for Active Learning: this Queen’s University resource offers suggestion for individual and small group in-class activities and for team-based learning.

Activity-Based Learning: Harvard University’s ablconnect is an extensive online resource for activities and the research behind active learning.

Active Learning Techniques: this University of California Berkeley resource breaks down strategies by size of group, type of room.

Shifting the Focus of Activity from Teachers to Learners: this North Carolina State University resource is specific to their College of Engineering and combines active learning information with cooperative learning and inductive teaching and learning.


Teaching in Myhal 150 with Sarah Mayes-Tang, Department of Mathematics, FAS:


Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) is an Academic and Campus Events (ACE) initiative that reconsiders how rooms at U of T are allocated, what these spaces can provide (existing rooms and new or redesigned rooms), and what students, faculty and staff need to succeed in these environments. Along with the Innovation Hub (Student Life), CTSI has partnered with ACE to focus on pedagogical support for this project, highlighting expertise and resources within our U of T community and linking to other institutions and research on active learning practices and techniques.

The Transforming the Instructional Landscape initiative includes partnering with the Innovation Hub in Student Life. The team of U of T students interviewed students, faculty and staff about their needs, questions and concerns when it comes to the physical spaces for learning at the University. The results were broken down into 5 themes; interpersonal connections, physical connections, virtual connections, accessibility and emotional stakes. Their report, “Transforming the Instructional Landscape: Themes and Insights: Design Thinking Summary”, informs CTSI and ACE’s work going forward.