The Periodic Table of Data Visualizations

Lengler, R. & Eppler, M. (2007).  Towards a periodic table of visualization methods for management. IASTED Proceesing of the Conference on Graphics and Visualization in Engineering.  Lecture conducted from Clearwater, FL.   In this article, Lengler and Eppler (2007) discuss the current state of data visualization as an area of academic inquiry; define their focus in visualization type and usage; and develop an infomap designed to group like methods of visualization for researcher and educator ease. A visualization, for the purposes of this article, is defined by Lengler and Eppler as

“a systematic, rule-based, external, permanent and graphic representation that depicts information in a way that is conducive to acquiring insights, developing an elaborate understanding, or communicating experiences” (pp. 1).

Data visualization as a fractured field

Lengler and Eppler (2007) open with a reflection upon the current state of data visualization literature.  Described as an “emergent” (pp. 1) field, work on data visualization is fractured across multiple, disparate fields—from computer programming to education.  The danger with this, the authors note, is the possibility that scholars may pursue theoretical work or breakthrough ideas in parallel with each other, rather than building collaboratively from each other’s works; this, in turn, could impede the development of data visualization research as its own distinct field. This characterization—a highly dichotomous bed of literature—reminds me strongly of Dr. Jordan’s (2014) thoughts on her work in researching educational “uncertainty.”  Much of the literature foundational for her thesis comes from disciplines focusing upon organization or management; likewise, this discussion of categorizing data visualizations is heavily rooted in management research, perhaps owing to Eppler and Lengler’s management backgrounds.

Overlap between management and education

Lengler and Eppler hone in upon visualization methods that are easily applicable within the field of management; that is, methods that are outcome oriented and favor a strong focus upon problem solving.  Because of this problem-solving focus, most if not all of the visualization methods presented are easily translatable to an educational (or more specifically classroom) environment.  As the authors interpret it, the “key for better execution is to engage employees” (pp. 2).  Through an educational lens, the same could be said of the need for educators to engage their students; Howard (2003) would certainly agree with the importance in considering what Lengler and Eppler term cognitive, social and emotional challenges facing managers; visualization methods, to their end, are tools—“advantages” (pp. 2)—to better understand and incorporate the perspectives of employees, and should either help to simplify a discussion or to foment new ideas and innovations.  This, of course, can is also true in reverse: A good visualization will give employees as much insight into their managers as vice versa.

The data visualization of data visualizations

In order to walk the walk, so to speak, the authors create a visualization—specifically, an infomap—to categorize and explore relationships between particular methods of displaying or interacting with data.  They chose visualization methods that were problem-solving or outcome oriented, per their focus on managerial research.  They also chose visualization methods that are easy to produce (though they may vary in complexity). This infomap is visually based upon the Periodic Table of Elements.  The authors note that the Periodic Table, in particular, is an excellent example of a co-opted visual metaphor; while widely recognized and used within several scientific fields, including chemistry, the Periodic Table is also understood outside of a scientific context as a shorthand to group or describe a complex topic.  Their “Periodic Table of Visualization Methods” is given as one of many examples of nonscientific fields using both the structure and shorthand connotation of the Periodic Table to describe something completely beyond chemical elements.

(Lengler & Eppler, 2007)

To help guide their discussion, Lengler and Eppler codify visualization methods on several axes, beginning first with their complexity and application.  Complexity is visualized as an ordinal characteristic; that is, the authors line up like methods in columns, from simplest at the top to most complex at the bottom.  Application is a bit more complex.  Methods are categorized by color into one of six “groups”:

  • Data visualizations, or “visualizations of quantitative data in schematic form” (pp. 3);
  • Information visualizations, or “the use of interactive visual representations of data to amplify cognition” (pp. 3);
  • Concept visualizations, or “methods to elaborate (mostly) qualitative concepts…through the help of rule-guided mapping procedures” (pp. 3-4);
  • Metaphor visualizations, or “effective and simple templates to convey complex insights” (pp. 4), such as story lines;
  • Strategy visualizations, or the “systematic use of complementary visual representations to improve the analysis, development, formulation, communication and implementation of strategies in organizations” (pp. 4); and
  • Compound visualizations, or methods that combine two or more of the following groupings or formats.

However, the authors also note that the categories listed above are not mutually exclusive; visualization methods can and do belong to multiple “groups.”  They attempted to streamline this process by focusing on both the complexity of a method—removing compound visualizations from ambiguity—and its interactive intent. In addition to grouping like methods, Lengler and Eppler also attempt to systematically categorize each method in their chart.  They focus on interaction, or the strengths of a visualization: Does it provide an excellent summary or overview of data, or does it better drill down into the details?  The authors also take into account what they term “cognitive processes” (pp. 4): Is the visualization an aid to simplify a complex concept (convergent thinking), or does it better jumpstart new and innovative ideas (divergent thinking)? To view the full infomap in all its interactive glory, with scroll over examples of all visualization methods listed, please visit:


Jordan, M. (2014, June). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams.  Lecture conducted from Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ.

Actively Improving Exam Scores?

Yoder, J. D., and Hochevar, C. M. (2005). Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations. Teaching of Psychology, 32(2), 91–95. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3202

I have been enthusiastically reading multiple articles, book chapters and on-line materials in my quest to learn more about active learning. The term ‘active learning’ seemed to be a buzz word as of late, however true active learning had been occurring for thousands of years. The most recent article I read caught my attention simply because of the title, Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). I wanted to know how they can prove this and what methods were used.

Article Summary

The authors (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005) hypothesized that students in upper level psychology classes would perform better on exams if the materials were presented using various active learning methods versus traditional teaching methods. In this article the definition of active learning was, “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (pg. 91). The authors discussed multiple active learning studies and their outcome. However, Yoder and Hochevar felt confident that no other study, until theirs, combined multiple active learning techniques in order to examine the overall effectiveness compared to nonactive teaching models.

The class was taught in the spring semester of 2001 (45 students), 2002 (37 students) and 2003 (38 students) by the same instructor – the first author, Janice Yoder. In order to show the progression of using active learning as the primary teaching modality, the class of 2003 was the base, while tracking changes from 2001 to 2003 as well as from 2002 and 2003 (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). The procedure for the study included obtaining class GPAs’ that were deidentified and securing institutional research board (IRB) approval to use the class data. The student demographic was relatively fixed with mostly women and the GPAs’ were consistent between all three classes studied. The authors noted that the “unit of analysis was exam items, not students” (pg. 92). The major area of interest in the study was class wide performance (the correct answers) on the exact test across all three classes. The exam questions were coded to the teaching modality when the content was delivered. The authors compared students’ performance on the exact same exam questions over the course of three years. The only slight difference was the minimal editing of two questions out of the 40 questions administered. The active learning methods utilized included, but were not limited to, discussions of materials class wide or in small groups, exercises and simulations (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005).

Summarized Study Results

With the 2001 class being the nonactive learning model, the results from the class of 2002 and 2003 represented a significant shift toward greater reliance on active learning (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). Additionally, the patterns in the data indicates that the analyses were clear and mostly consistent. “Both within a class and between classes, classes scored higher and less variably on items testing materials presented via active learning compared to lecture, autonomous readings or video without discussion coverage” (pg. 93).

Strengths, Critiques and Response

The purpose of this study was to gauge how students would perform on exams if active learning was utilized. While the study seems strong in using the same instructor and the same exam, I would conceive that using these two main variables alone could possibly have a different outcome in a different setting. For example, the first author in this study, Yoder, was also the instructor. Her enthusiasm for teaching may have increased over the three years because the students were increasingly engaged in the subject matter because it was being taught in a more interactive way. I equate this to having a “good” teacher and having a “bad” teacher. For example, when I was in high school I struggled in any math related subject. I avoided any class that might include any algebraic equations simply because I despised math and my lack of confidence made me feel dumb. I tried to learn basic algebra but it never stuck. Fast forward 15 years and in order to graduate from college I needed to pass college algebra with a 70% or better. Needless to say, I had major anxiety over accomplishing this feat! Luckily I worked at a community college and had the luxury of knowing who was a “good” teacher and who was a “bad” teacher. In reality, none of them were bad there were just different levels of enthusiasm. I wanted an instructor who felt a passion to teach math not just to bring home a paycheck. In order for me to really learn math I decided that I needed to start at the bottom and move my way up to college algebra. My plan of attack worked! Why this plan worked was because of a couple of different factors, they were: I wanted to learn (and never feel inadequate in regards to math again) AND the instructor wanted me to learn. This instructor had a vested interest in me and wanted me to succeed. Finally, in comparing my basic experience to a three year study, one would venture that if a singular instructor could change the outcome for one student (me) just on vested interest alone, then a study and the data produced can be skewed simply because the common denominator over the three year span was the same instructor, Yoder, who also had a large amount of vested interest.

While I am still in the early stages of researching the multiple facets of active learning, I would be very interested to see if the study described in the article Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005) could be expanded. The size of the study was very small in terms of the number of students involved and the number of variables were limited. While their intent of the study was to prove that active learning improves test scores, I felt that the study would have been more valid if the active learning techniques were the same but delivered by different instructors who also administered the same exam.



Yoder, J. D., & Hochevar, C. M. (2005). Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations. Teaching of Psychology, 32(2), 91–95. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3202

Tracking, Mixing – Actively?

In the paper, Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? (Pivovarova, 2014), the author discussed the effects of peers in a classroom setting. In very broad terms, in Pivovarova’s paper, students are classified as higher, average and lower achieving; the author even made mention of “bad” kids. In addition, there were multiple reasons explaining why this is practiced in schools around the world. I had a few revelations when reading this paper and couldn’t quite get them out of my head.

To begin, I recalled my own childhood when reading this paper. I remember from a very early age, that the “gifted” students were treated differently. They had better books, better teachers and seemed to obtain more help from the teachers. Some of the “bad” students would call these “gifted” students the “teacher’s pet” because they were always getting called on to answer a question or asked to help with special tasks. Looking back now I remember that it made me feel terrible. I would question why I was not asked to clean the erasers (it was cool back then) or to help grade papers. I was a good student but obviously I was not “gifted.” Sadly, I also recalled the students who were not so “good.” My heart hurts a little when I think about how they must have felt.

As in any group there are ranges in intelligence, economic status, culture and race (to name a few) and the groups at my primary school were not much different. The school district that I attended also tracked students and unfortunately everyone knew what track they were in based on which class they were placed. When I think about this now it makes me angry. I questioned: How can this be? Isn’t this a form of segregation and racism? Why did my parent’s allow this to happen? Why did anyone allow this to happen? Of course, some of my questions were answered in the paper as to a probable “why” a school would track but I still don’t like or agree with it.

Putting my childhood memories aside I also thought how my area of interest, active learning, could play a part in halting the practice of tracking students by achievement level. In one of my research blogs I discussed various ways that an instructor can incorporate active learning methods in a classroom, simply and at no cost. Some of these methods include the pause procedure, which means the instructor stops every 10-15 minutes and allows the students to check their notes with a peer. Additionally, another method of active learning is small group work.

Continuing, one of the student groups that Pivovarova analyzed were those that relocated from another school. “The potential reason for lower academic outcomes for movers is that events that make students move – family break- ups, unemployment or loss of parents – also negatively affect their academic achievement” (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 9). In relaying this quote I am hopeful that a potential instructor would correlate that by incorporating one of the active learning methods discussed above it would help a struggling student. These improvement in the student could be reflected in their personal feelings (feeling less isolated) and would encourage their classroom participation, which could possibly improve academic achievement.

In closing, I was particularly surprised how a study on tracking or mixing students in classrooms would have any connection to active learning – and stir up so many emotions for me! I am just scratching the surface on my action research and already feel the desire to learn more. I am excited about how I may be able to contribute solutions to significant issues that are occurring in the United States public educational system.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Tracking = Resegregation?

Source (image): “Coming Clean Beyond the Fiscal Cliff”,

I am always amazed at how excellence in education is equated with equity. Although, I am not an elementary or secondary educator, I am often privy to my educator-friends who are assured that one of these concepts comes at the expense of the other; that a school lending itself to equity will undoubtedly sacrifice excellence. Or, that to be academically excellent, the school must limit its equity in order to properly serve high-achieving students who deserve academic consistency and progressiveness. Forgive me, but I am somewhat confused by this idea. Wouldn’t an environment that offers its best curriculum to all students be simultaneously achieving excellence?

In Margarita Pivovarova’s (2014) article , Show we Track or Should we Mix Them?, she explores the notion of tracking in elementary schools. Tracking refers to the grouping of students by ability; thereby placing high-performing students in an environment with peers of the same ability, while placing lower-achieving student with low-achieving peers. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying “put the smart kids in one classroom; put the dumb kids together in a different classroom.” You can tell by my tone, that I do not agree with this idea in any form. Pivovarova (2014) asserts that while positive effects can be seen through tracking, it greatly impacts lower-performing students in detrimental ways. She based her assertion on literature that implicitly showed that “the data does not support the linear-in-means model” (p.7), coming to the realization that the nature of peer effects within the learning environment are more complicated than the model suggests. While Pivovarova (2014) doesn’t clearly state which data set presented this finding, she mentions that some research indicated positive findings, while other research indicated no effect; she finds that peer interaction is a highly important component to achieving the success of tracking (Pivovarova, 2014). I agree with Pivovarova’s (2014) assertion here. Simply grouping students together based on ability alone is not sufficient to prove that this method achieves optimal results. Students must be able and willing to engage with peers and instructors in a way that fosters positive identity and confidence in the learning environment, therefore, producing desired results.

High school principle and author, Carol Corbett Burris (2014) discusses tracking in her book On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle against Resegregation pointing out that previous literature documents tracks as “racially and economically stratified” (p. 112). For example, if a high-performing Black student who comes from a low socio-economic background is put into a classroom with a large number of White students from middle to high socio-economic status would the linear-in-means model be so clear cut? Would the student feel confident to perform? Would he/she be able to relate to the classroom climate or culture of privilege within the group? While some students may perform well in this environment, some may not. In addition to the inconsistency of this model, other learning theories come into play (i.e. stereotype threat, “performing whiteness”, etc.) that can easily blur the framework of academic tracking. Tracking also puts a great burden the teacher to ensure that equity is maintained between groups; a burden that lends itself to resources, tools, and institutional support. Pivovarova (2014) concludes that a mixed learning environment is optimal, asserting that the quality of peers has a great impact on both high and low achieving students stating, “…while the average quality of peers is more important for high-achievers, adding just one more smart kid in a classroom has a larger impact on marginal kids than it has on top students” (p. 28).

Tracking, in my opinion, lends itself to labeling as well. In a society where emphasis is placed on the level of coursework studied by the student, it is no wonder that parents will work the system to ensure their child is put into high-achieving classrooms to ensure that all social and academic opportunities are made available to them. Labels such as “gifted”, “honor student”, “special needs” and “remedial” are identities placed on the student which often confirm the student’ identity of self-worth, and so very often students perform to the label by which they are identified. Why not eliminate the curriculum gap in an effort to close the achievement gap? I am sure there is no easy solution to this issue, but we must work harder to ensure educational equity, or risk repeating the injustices of the past.


Burris, C. C. (2014). On the same track: How schools can join the twenty-first-century struggle against resegregation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pivovarova, M. (2013). Should we track them or should we mix them? Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.

Actively Learning From Each Other

Benware, C. A., & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal, 21(4), 755–765.

In the article, Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set, the authors, Carl A. Benware and Edward L. Deci (1984), questioned whether students would be independently motivated to learn with an active orientation over students of a passive orientation. In other words, if a student has a reason that is intrinsically tied to an internal reward, then that student will have an advantage over another student who is learning ‘just because.’ The study had a control and experimental group. The instructions for each group were relatively the same except the main difference for the experimental group is that they were told that upon their return in one week they will be required to teach another student the material they will be studying and then that student will be given an exam from their instruction – this would be the reward.

After one week both groups returned to the laboratory. The control group were given a survey and were examined on the material. The experimental group were given the survey and then told that they were not going to teach the students but were being given an exam to enable investigators to understand their learning process and how well they know the material. The findings indicate that the students in the experimental group were much more interested in learning the material, enjoyed the participation in the experiment and would be willing to participate further (Benware & Deci, 1984). Additionally, their memorization of the material and conceptual learning was also significantly better.

Comments: Strengths and Contributions

Organization The article is designed so that the reader can deduct that the purpose of the study (the quality of learning) is differentiated by motivational factors behind the learning (extrinsic versus intrinsic). What this research highlighted is that there are many different ways to transfer knowledge to students without creating elaborate and time consuming methods.
Contribution to Field While this is an older study, I feel the finding are critical in developing my action research. Particularly, the motivating factors why students learn in one way versus the other.
Literature Review One study the authors refer to is that of Bargh and Schul (1980). The main thrust of their study, On the cognitive benefits of teaching, (Bargh and Schul, 1980) is when people learn, in order to be able to teach the materials to another student or class, they use different cognitive structures than compared to those who learn just to be examined on the material. Again, while this is an older article, I feel that the way humans learn is relatively as old as time.
Data Collection The data collection method was relatively a simple process of having a control group and an experimental group. Both groups were given an article to read with relatively the same instructions except the experimental group was told that when they returned to the lab (after one week of studying the materials) they would teach the content to another student whom would then be tested on the material.
Findings Upon analyzing the assessments, the findings indicate that the interest, enjoyment and participation was significantly greater in the experimental group. More striking was that the conceptual learning score in the experimental group was markedly exceptional over the control group.

Since the article (Benware & Deci, 1984) was published nearly 30 years ago, I was a little hesitant about its relevancy. However, after reading the article I discovered there was significant value to me. A couple of those reasons being:

  • This study highlighted that “active learning” does not require a significant amount of money or time to produce favorable results, such as described in the article, The flipped classroom: A course redesign to foster learning and engagement in a health professions school (McLaughlin et al. 2014). In the article, the authors describe a major stumbling block being that the initial time investment is significant on the instructor but then diminishes but the time commitment for the lab or teachers’ assistant remains high.
  • The combination of the results from the survey and the examination demonstrated that if students were told they were going to use the material learned (to teach another student) then it lead to greater conceptual knowledge (Benware & Deci, 1984).

This has sparked my interest in possibly reproducing a study of this nature at the College of Medicine – Phoenix. Given that these students are pursuing a career in medicine, some of them simply because they want to help people, this may be a good test to see if their altruistic goals are measurable. Also, one of the core goals within Academic Affairs at the College is “to understanding basic and clinical science, (and) students must learn to engage with people in compassionate and understanding ways” (University of Arizona, College of Medicine – Phoenix, Academic Affairs, 2014, para. 2). I may want to design a study that will measure how to achieve this goal with the use of student taught active learning.


Bargh, J.A., & Schul, Y. (1980). On the cognitive benefits of teaching. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 593-604.

Benware, C. A., & Deci, E. L. (1984). Quality of learning with an active versus passive motivational set. American Educational Research Journal, 21(4), 755–765.

McLaughlin, J. E., Roth, M. T., Glatt, D. M., Gharkholonarehe, N., Davidson, C. a, Griffin, L. M., … Mumper, R. J. (2014). The flipped classroom: a course redesign to foster learning and engagement in a health professions school. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(2), 236–43.

University of Arizona, College of Medicine – Phoenix, Academic Affairs, (2014) Retrieved from

Active Learning in Health Professions

McLaughlin, J. E., Roth, M. T., Glatt, D. M., Gharkholonarehe, N., Davidson, C. A, Griffin, L. M., Esserman, Denise A., Mumper, R. J. (2014). The flipped classroom: a course redesign to foster learning and engagement in a health professions school. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(2), 236–43.

The article, The Flipped Classroom: A Course Redesign to Foster Learning and Engagement in Health Professions School (McLaughlin, J. E., Roth, M. T., Glatt, D. M., Gharkholonarehe, N., Davidson, C. A, Griffin, L. M., Esserman, Denise A. & Mumper, R. J., 2014) is about how the University of North Carolina (UNC) Eshelman School of Pharmacy redesigned the course, Basic Pharmaceuticals II, using a flipped classroom model. The course redesign was “inspired by a desire to transform the educational experiences of our students and to meet students’ requests for enhanced in-class active learning experiences” (p. 237). The article discussed what changes were implemented in the course redesign; they include, replacing in-class lectures with on-line videos to watch outside of class and then spending valuable class time on active learning exercises. The three main element focal points include, offloaded content (recorded videos, etc.), student centered-learning and appropriate assessments.

In trying to determine if implementing a flipped-classroom model would be effective the researchers obtained approval from the UNC institutional review board in order to administer pre- and post-surveys regarding demographic information, students’ perceptions of active learning activities, preferred curriculum delivery format and engagement. In addition, they collected data on exam scores and additional assessment tools and compared the outcomes of traditional classroom format (class of 2011) to those that participated in the flipped classroom format (class of 2012). The overall findings validated that overall student learning increased after participating in a flipped-classroom format.

Review of Strengths and Contributions

Organization – The organization of this article was well constructed. I particularly valued that the authors compared the traditional lecture and course design to the newly implemented student-centered pedagogy.

Contribution to Field – The authors acknowledge that there have been many significant changes to how healthcare is delivered and discussed the increasingly complex healthcare system, yet state, “little has changed in the way that education is structured and delivered to aspiring health professionals” (p. 236). This articles contributes to the field that by incorporating active learning into a classroom, it can enhance learning, improve outcomes, and fully equip students to address 21st-century health care needs.

Literature Review – In my review of the article what I found most interesting is what is happening in traditional classrooms. Some of those happenings included, “students’ attention declines substantially and steadily after the first 10 minutes of class and that the average attention span of a medical student is 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning of class. Although students’ attention returns in the last few minutes of class, they remember only 20% of the material presented during that time. Furthermore, passive learning in hour-long lectures often bores students and can deprive them of rich educational experiences” (McLaughlin et al., 2014, p. 236).

Analysis/Finding – The authors compared pre- and post-course survey responses, course evaluations responses and final exam scores between the traditional and flipped-classroom cohorts. The finding conclude that the students in the flipped classroom evaluated the overall class better in areas such as, comprehension of material, engagement during class, preparedness, etc.

Discussion/Conclusions – The authors discussed in detail how the course was being redesigned but more importantly, in my opinion, honestly discussed the time commitment on both the instructor and the teaching assistants (TA). While the initial time commitment by the faculty is significant, it will decrease in subsequent years, however for the TA the time commitment will remain static. By showing the time commitment implications, I feel that future teachers will feel motivated to incorporate active learning techniques and feel confident that in subsequent classes or years they will not need to devote so much time on planning for the same class material.

Miscellaneous – What I particularly found valuable was some of the next steps and changes that will be implemented for the spring 2013 class. Some of those changes include: no longer considering the textbook to be required reading, replacing the student presentations and discussion with a new 30-minute active learning exercise, and creating “an online 411 Pharmacopedia to be used as an information portal for expanding concepts, new technologies, breaking news, current clinical trials, new drug products, and Web links” (McLaughlin et al., 2014, p. 242). This showed that the authors were incorporating ways to improve the course.


In my blog post from last week, I reviewed the article Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research (Prince, 2004). While I am in the infant stages of researching IF and HOW active learning works, I happily find myself being drawn into wanting more information. Some of my curiosity revolves around how students balance their in-class time with their out of class responsibilities and what are the long-term material retention statistics for those who participate in an active learning setting versus a traditional lecture classroom setting.

I am interested in implementing more active learning sessions for a course that I co-direct for fourth year medical students. During their final year of medical school, the students are in their elective rotations locally and across the country. In the spring, prior to graduation, we bring them back for a two-week course that is designed to help prepare their transition into residency. There are some active learning sessions during these two weeks, but approximately 80% of the course sessions are lecture based. In working with the director of the course, we are trying to develop sessions that involve more student involvement and particularly enhance ways to assess their clinical skills. I feel this article (McLaughlin et al., 2014) and the study described within can help persuade administration to allow us to achieve our goals of designing more active learning sessions and move away from the traditional lecture-based sessions.


McLaughlin, J. E., Roth, M. T., Glatt, D. M., Gharkholonarehe, N., Davidson, C. A, Griffin, L. M., Esserman, Denise A., Mumper, R. J. (2014). The flipped classroom: a course redesign to foster learning and engagement in a health professions school. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(2), 236–43.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work ? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(July), 223–231.

Does Active Learning Work?

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93, 223-331.

Michael Prince, author of Does active learning work? A review of the research (2004) completed a study to determine if there is actual evidence that supports the effectiveness of active learning. In the article, the author defined active learning “generally as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing” (pg. 223). The author also discussed the different styles of instructional methods of active learning which include but are not limited to, collaborative learning, which means any instructional method in which students work together in small groups toward a common goal; cooperative learning, can be defined as a structured form of group work where students pursue common goals while being assessed individually; and problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method where relevant problems are introduced at the beginning of the instruction cycle and used to provide the context and motivation for the learning that follows. Additionally, the author discussed issues that have been presented in previous publications or findings that may confuse instructors on the effectiveness of active learning. There are various studies where the outcomes are skewed because of the lack of definition of “active learning” and what actually is being measured. The author continued with evidence that supports active learning in various ways such as introducing student activity into lectures and promoting student engagement. At the conclusion of the article the author  states “although the results vary in strength, this study has found support for all forms of active learning examined” (p. 227).

Review of Strengths and Contributions

Organization – This article was a perfect starting point to begin my research on active learning. I valued that the author provided a rationale as to why some previous studies and articles could cause confusion. The article is laid out nicely with the headings, summaries, etc.

Contribution to Field – This article contributes to the field of “active learning” research by analyzing various active learning methods in a concise way. This article may help an instructor to begin formulating a revised pedagogy for their class.

Literature Review – The author provided an analysis on various learning methods that have been studied by other researchers. These methods include, active learning using the pause procedure, collaborative learning (small group work), cooperative learning (group work being assessed individually) and problem based learning.

Data Collection/Analysis/Findings–

The author (Prince, 2004) provided information on the first method studied, it was active learning using the pause procedure (student activity during traditional lecture). In the article, Using the Pause Procedure to Enhance Lecture Recall (Hughes & Schloss, 1987, p. 225), they conducted a study involving 72 students over two courses in each of two semesters. The findings showed short-term recall with the pause procedure averaged 108 correct facts compared to 80 correct facts. Long-term retention was assessed with a 65 question multiple-choice exam given one and a half weeks after the last lecture. Test scores were 89.4% with the pause procedure compared to 80.9% without pause for one class, and 80.4% with the pause procedure compared to 72.6% with no pause in the other class.

The second method reviewed by the author was collaborative learning (small group work). In the book, Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 1998, p. 226-227), the researchers reviewed multiple studies comparing individual work versus group work. The findings indicated that by using collaborative learning a student would move from the 50th to the 70th percentile on an exam, (raising a student’s grade from 75% to 81%), which in turn, reduces attrition in technical programs by 22%.

Another method reviewed by the author was cooperative learning (group work being assessed individually). There were multiple studies comparing the exam scored when students worked individually and in a group. The findings indicated student’s exam scores jumped from 75% to 85%. The research also showed that it promoted effective teamwork and improved interpersonal skills.

The last method studied was problem based learning (PBL). The author, Michael Prince, indicated that the large variation in PBL practices makes the analysis of its effectiveness more complex and harder to study. However, one generally accepted finding that emerges from the literature, concluded that PBL produces positive student attitudes.

Discussion/Conclusions – The article was written so that instructors would not have to sift through multiple studies to see if the benefits of active learning are actually quantifiable. The author proved that the research shows that active learning in various forms can significantly improve student exam scores, retention, interpersonal skills and attitudes.


An area of research interest for me is active learning. I am very interested in various teaching modalities that can engage students in a more meaningful and impactful way. I recently discussed, in a reflective writing piece, how at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine – Phoenix (COM-P) we are constantly exploring new ways to deliver curriculum to the students. Even though we have some of the best medical minds in the world, we still struggle with ways to fully engage our students.

At the COM-P we have incorporated independent learning modules (ILM’s) where students can watch and listen to various lecture topics on their own time. We also have a state-of-the-art simulation lab that can fully simulate multiple medical scenarios. However, these modes of instruction can be time consuming and labor intensive, which may result in faculty members sticking to the traditional method of lecture based instruction. The author explains that active learning doesn’t need to be difficult but more deliberate. What I thought was fascinating was when the author discussed the pause procedure as studied by Ruhl et al (1987). While this is not a ground-breaking method, it is one that is very simple to incorporate and the data proves there is a direct improvement in material recall.

The multiple studies and findings discussed in this article have further ignited my interest in active learning and pursuing enhanced ways to improve student learning, retention and exam scores.


Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Smith, K. (Ed.). (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.,

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work ? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93, 223–231.

Ruhl, K., Hughes, C., & Schloss, P. Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10(1987), 14–18.