What is active learning?

Active learning can “be defined as anything that ‘involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.’”[1]  This is a stark contrast to passive learning, where “students passively receive information from the professor and internalize it through some form of memorization.”[2]  Incorporating active learning can lead to “higher student cognitive outcomes on specific material covered in a class … as opposed to one taught with the passive teaching approach.”[3]  In addition, “[c]lassroom approaches that engage students in ‘active learning’ improve retention of information and critical thinking skills, compared with a sole reliance on lecturing.”[4]  In short, active learning moves the focus from the instructor’s teaching to the students’ learning and improves engagement, retention, and critical thinking.

The Ohio State University’s University Center for the Advancement of Teaching maintains a list of active learning strategies that can be employed in both workshops and courses.  The listed strategies range from simple (brainstorming) to complex (simulations), providing ample options to suit an instructor’s teaching style.  We encourage including an active learning strategy into a workshop or class to see how it fits with your teaching style.  While the list of potential active learning activities is almost limitless, there are a few that seem to fit particularly well within the copyright context.  Below are a few examples of those activities and how they can be woven into copyright education.

Active Learning in the Copyright Context

In a copyright workshop, Think-Pair-Share can help participants actively engage with the material.  For example, in a workshop for participants developing online courses, give them time to write down up to three works that they would like to incorporate.  Then have folks pair up and share their copyright challenges, and what they think is the most viable solution.  Finally, ask for a volunteer pair to share their thoughts with the group.  At this point, you could open the discussion up to the whole group, potentially teasing out confusion or misunderstandings.  Then make a few closing comments, clearing up any misunderstandings and offering the sharing pair additional thoughts or suggestions.

If discussion seems too passive, or doesn’t fit with your presentation style, have the students get hands-on with the material.  A presentation on fair use might work best with this style.  Break the group into pairs or smaller groups and give them a scenario and accompanying problem to analyze.  If you can contact attendees in advance, have them bring in works they are using, or would like to use, in their teaching.  The small groups can then walk that particular work, or your provided scenario, through the fair use analysis.  This strategy has the added benefits of 1) allowing attendees to get some of their work done in the workshop and 2) ensuring attendees have gone through at least one fair use analysis on their own.

Readers in the U.K. can utilize Copyright the Card Game in their teaching.  If you live in the U.K., it is a great way to gamify copyright education.  Available for download under Creative Commons’ CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license, the game “takes delegates from copyright basics through to real world scenarios which explore the relationship between licences and copyright fair dealing exceptions.”[5]  Participants use game cards in four suits (Works, Usages, Licenses, and Exceptions) along with pre-made PowerPoint slides to “work through the scenarios presented.”[6]  While there is currently only a version for U.K. law, the idea of gamifying copyright law is incredibly intriguing, hopefully we will see a U.S. version soon.

What active and creative strategies have you used in your copyright education efforts?  Let us know with a comment on this post.  We would love to hear about your successes!



By Marley C. Nelson, Rights Management Specialist, Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries


[1] Bonwell, Charles; Eison, James (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. Information Analyses – ERIC Clearinghouse Products (071), p. 3.  Accessed on 3/8/17 via http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED336049.pdf.

[2] N. Michel, J. Cater, and O. Varela, Active Versus Passive Learning Styles: An Empirical Study of Student Learning Outcomes.  Human Resources Development Quarterly, vol. 20, no.4, Winter 2009.  Accessed 3/17/17 via http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hrdq.20025/epdf.

[3] N. Michel, J. Cater, and O. Varela, page 64.

[4] President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2012). Engage to excel: Producing one million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-engage-to-excel-final_2-25-12.pdf on 3/6/17.

[5] Chris Morrison, Naomi Korn, and Jane Secker.  Copyright the Card Game – Instructions.  Copyright 2015 by Chris Morrison, shared via CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

[6] Id.