Managing active learning processes in large first year physics classes: The advantages of an integrated approach


  • Michael J. Drinkwater The University of Queensland
  • Deanne Gannaway The University of Queensland
  • Karen Sheppard The University of Queensland
  • Matthew J. Davis The University of Queensland
  • Margaret J. Wegener The University of Queensland
  • Warwick P. Bowen The University of Queensland
  • Joel F. Corney The University of Queensland



active learning, science education, learning outcomes, first year experience


Turning lectures into interactive, student-led question and answer sessions is known to increase learning, but enabling interaction in a large class seems aninsurmountable task. This can discourage adoption of this new approach – who has time to individualize responses, address questions from over 200 students and encourage active participation in class? An approach adopted by a teaching team in large first-year classes at a research-intensive university appears to provide a means to do so. We describe the implementation of active learning strategies in a large first-year undergraduate physics unit of study, replacing traditional, content-heavy lectures with an integrated approach to question-driven learning. A key feature of our approach is that it facilitates intensive in-class discussions by requiring students to engage in preparatory reading and answer short written quizzes before every class. The lecturer uses software to rapidly analyze the student responses and identify the main issues faced by the students before the start of each class. We report the success of the integration of student preparation with this analysis and feedback framework, and the impact on the in-class discussions. We also address some of the difficulties commonly experienced by staff preparing for active learning classes.


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Author Biographies

Michael J. Drinkwater, The University of Queensland

Michael J. Drinkwater is Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Deanne Gannaway, The University of Queensland

Deanne Gannaway is Manager of the Evaluation Unit in the Teaching and Educational Development Institute at The University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Karen Sheppard, The University of Queensland

Karen Sheppard is the Evaluation Project Officer at the Teaching and Educational Development Institute at the University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Matthew J. Davis, The University of Queensland

Matthew J. Davis is a Professor in the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Margaret J. Wegener, The University of Queensland

Margaret J. Wegener is a Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Warwick P. Bowen, The University of Queensland

Warwick P. Bowen is an Associate Professor in the School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Joel F. Corney, The University of Queensland

Joel F. Corney is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).


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How to Cite

Drinkwater, Michael J., Deanne Gannaway, Karen Sheppard, Matthew J. Davis, Margaret J. Wegener, Warwick P. Bowen, and Joel F. Corney. 2014. “Managing Active Learning Processes in Large First Year Physics Classes: The Advantages of an Integrated Approach”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 2 (2):75-90.