Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

170 Purposeful Action – 04.05.2019

Providing students with agency in their learning fosters self-regulated learners who are more interested and effective in applying knowledge. In the April 5, 2019 Active Teaching Lab, 14 attendees explored how to transform assignments to serve authentic world and local problems. Participants shared activities and practices to promote purposeful action for students on and beyond campus.


  • Instead of trying to predict what might be relevant to students’ lives, structure assignments so that there are multiple avenues for students to find and/or generate their own personal meaning in the work.
  • Set the context for a learning activity, both in the scope of the course/program and in the real world. Students tend to invest more in tasks for which they can see the immediate, real-world effects.
  • Draw on social media to bring awareness to or humanize a topic. For instance, the “To Selfie or Not to Selfie” research project is examining whether Instagram posts can improve the public’s perception of scientists’ warmth and, by extension, increase trust. (What are the implications of increased/decreased trust in science?)
  • Build in public-facing projects, such as student-created websites to enhance student motivation and quality of work. (Check out Ahna Skop’s approach in her genetics course from the 02.23.18 Lab on Weebly.) Website hit trackers like help students visualize how many people they have impacted and how far that reach spreads.
  • Encourage interprofessional, collaborative critical thinking and problem solving with makerspaces.

For more information on cultivating purposeful action, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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