How on Earth do I Incorporate Active Learning into a 50-minute One-Shot Session?

By Stephanie Schulte, Head of Research and Education Services at the OSU Health Sciences Library


Have you ever had a request for a one-shot session where the course instructor wants you to teach their students everything you know in less than an hour? If you are like me, of course you have had this experience. Time is precious, and having worked primarily in the health sciences, accreditation often dictates what topics have to be covered, leaving less than ideal bits of time to cover literature searching or other pieces of the scholarly publishing world that are pertinent to these students. We often feel the pressure to make sure students are at least aware of everything they have available to them and cover many topics in a superficial manner. They can always follow up with an individual appointment, right? And who has time for active learning in this situation?

Well, if you’re at a large institution, you may not be able to scale individual consults for everyone who wants one, at least without losing your sanity. But, do not lose hope! You are a professional who can both negotiate what should be covered in a session and also provide opportunities for students to facilitate their own learning for the course at hand and in the future. Active learning can be a tool, even in a small amount of time, that can make the most of the learning opportunity at hand.

At the Medical Library Association’s annual conference in May, I was a member of a panel who discussed active learning. Active learning can take many forms and involve different aspects of librarianship, including getting on curriculum committees, acquiring collections that play a role in active learning, participating as a small group facilitator, and being an instructor who uses active learning. So, as an instructor, how can you use active learning in a one-shot?

The concept of backward design can be a useful framework when planning a one-hour’ish one-shot. What I suggest below is a rather simplistic way of thinking about this, but it can work!

  1. What do your students need to be able to do at the end of the session? Don’t overthink this. What are 2 or 3 things that they need to do to be successful in the course or with the assignment at hand?
  2. How will you know they can do these things? What evidence would demonstrate they learned to do these 2 or 3 things?
  3. Based on this, what teaching methods – including active learning – could/should be utilized so that they learn how to do these 2 or 3 things?
  4. What content needs to be covered in order to do these 2 or 3 things?

Notice how I point out 2 or 3 things.  That’s to emphasize that we cannot and should not be teaching these students everything we know in such a short period of time. Think hard about the idea of must know, nice to know, optional to know.

To help you conceptualize how you might incorporate active learning into even a short session with students, I developed a handout based on backward design principles to take you through the thought process as well as a handout that identifies some simple active learning activities by the amount of time and effort they might require. This is by no means an exhaustive or prescriptive handout! There are many resources out there. I’ve included links for a couple of my personal favorites in the handout too, but I’m including them here for your quick reference.

Now, go forth and teach! I’ll be putting my own advice to work in a couple of days. Stay tuned.



Active Learning for a OneShot

Active Learning by Complexity