How to design effective reinforcement activities for activeflex courses

How to effectively design reinforcement activities for the activeflex course to maximise student engagement, by Joy Oettel

Joy Oettel's avatar
6 Apr 2022
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Designing effective reinforcement activities for university teaching in person and online

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Athens State University

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ActiveFlex teaching provides exciting possibilities for student interaction with both the instructor and classmates. The activeflex framework maximises the benefits of hyflex teaching, such as student choice and flexibility in scheduling and preferred learning modality, while solving its shortcomings. It does this by purposef​​ully incorporating engaging, collaborative active learning activities throughout the activeflex course.Reinforcement activities sit at the heart of activeflex interaction and, when well-designed, provide meaningful engagement and critical thinking between students and instructors. Crafting effective reinforcement activities requires a clear understanding of the activity’s purpose and the ability to integrate the activity into the mechanics of an activeflex course.

The purpose of reinforcement activities

Reinforcement activities are designed to do exactly what the name suggests – reinforce the learning objectives and content while creating meaningful interactions for students. When creating a reinforcement activity, it is important to keep the emphasis on active learning and engagement. In the activeflex format, the reinforcement activity begins after the lecture, giving students an immediate opportunity to apply the ideas presented. The reinforcement activity can be used to support overarching course objectives that need to be practised and strengthened as the course progresses.

Real-world applications

The strongest reinforcement activities ask students to actively apply their knowledge in real-world contexts. We’ll take the example of a class focused on showing future teachers how to construct meaningful feedback on student work. A useful reinforcement activity might provide these trainee teachers with a sample of student work and ask them to craft feedback using a rubric provided. In this scenario, the reinforcement activity bridges the gap between concept and application.

Class discussion

In a live class, the reinforcement activity provides a strong foundation for class discussion. In the example used above, students could discuss the work sample and write feedback in groups.  After each group completes the task, the instructor can ask each group to share their writing with the whole class, opening the door to peer critiques and fresh ideas.

Ideas for creativity and innovation

Designing reinforcement activities can be the most enjoyable part of building activeflex courses because they provide a platform for creativity and innovation. Embrace this opportunity by leaning into your toolbox of instructional strategies and technology tools. These might include concept maps, graphic organisers, jigsaws (Jigsaw Collaborative Discussion Method), think-pair-share, 3-2-1 questions, class debates, and discussion formats. 

The online component of activeflex courses enables the use of fun and engaging applications such as virtual escape rooms, Padlet and Mindomo. With that in mind, ensure you are intentional with your use of technology, selecting tools that support the learning strategy instead of using technology for technology’s sake. 

Grading of reinforcement activities

The purpose of reinforcement activities is to promote interaction, so they should not require heavy or time-intensive grading. Instructors should assess students on their participation and interaction with the activity. It is not necessary to spend a great deal of time grading the details of the assignment. When setting up the gradebook, the reinforcement activities should not count for more than 10 per cent of the overall grade since it isn’t critically graded. For example, an activity that asks students to think critically about a social problem discussed in the lecture should not be graded heavily on the writing mechanics of their response. Create rubrics for each reinforcement activity that keep the focus of the assessment on its true purpose.

Mechanics of reinforcement activities

Crafting strong reinforcement activities that are flexible enough to be integrated into an activeflex class takes logistical practice because every activity must be designed for both synchronous and asynchronous students. To ensure that asynchronous students get the same benefits as those students completing the activity in a live class, create reinforcement activities that focus on the application of critical thinking skills. Instructors should provide meaningful feedback when grading the activities to increase engagement with asynchronous students.

It can be helpful to write two sets of directions, one for those attending live and one for asynchronous students. Consider possible questions asynchronous students will have when they read the directions and what resources they need. For both synchronous and asynchronous students, list directions in bullet points for quick scanning by the instructor and students when it is time to complete the activity. 

Keep in mind that any response that groups create for the reinforcement activity must be unique, so that when they share their product with the class, each group doesn’t repeat the same information. Assign each group a unique question to discuss or have each group create a unique product. Asking students to incorporate their own experiences into their responses will lead to unique responses and create more student-centred engagement.

Make sure all materials needed to complete the reinforcement activity are included in the learning management system module for easy and quick access. Create a folder containing all reinforcement activity materials, such as videos, PDFs or documents needed to complete the activity.

Creating reinforcement activities that encourage interaction, innovation, and engagement is key to cementing learning in the activeflex format.

Joy Oettel is an activeflex technology support and content development specialist at Athens State University.

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