Active Learning

32 Active Learning Case Study

3-modesA Observe & Consider

Sample Active Learning Assignment

Here at Learning Support Services, we consult with a lot of outstanding teachers, many of whom are developing their own innovative active learning ideas. One of these instructors, Takako Nakakubo, a faculty associate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature, teaches EA 104, a second-semester introductory Japanese language course. Takako’s course employs a blended learning model, making frequent use of a course website built in Moodle. Despite not being able to understand one bit of Japanese ourselves, we recently saw some conversational videos created by students in one of Takako’s classes and were impressed by their quality, inventiveness, and complexity. Below, you can see the initial assignment that led up to the student videos (which Takako was kind enough to translate into English from the original Japanese for us):

Skit Presentation


4.17  (Tue)

Form a group of three or four and think about the topic for your skit. The skit should be approximately 5-minutes long. You may create a video to present it or perform it live.

4.23  (Mon)

Submit the first draft of your skit. Your skit should include the following:

  • Grammatical constructions which feature honorific verbs, the passive form, and the causative form.
  • Vocabulary that has been introduced in the textbook. Try to use no more than 5 new words.

4.30  (Mon)

Submit the final draft of your skit. This draft must reflect the revisions you’ve made based on the comments you received on the first draft.

4.25 (Wed) – 5.6 (Sun)

Practice, rehearse, and/or record your skit in preparation for your in-class presentation.

5.7  (Mon) – 5.8 (Tue)

Present your skit in the discussion class. Each class will vote to select what they feel was the discussion section’s best skit.

5.9 (Wed)

The students whose skit was selected as the best skit in each discussion section will perform it (or show it if it’s a video) during the lecture class.

Grading criteria

  1. Clarity: Was the skit easy for the audience to understand?
  2. Variety of grammar and vocabulary
  3. Memorization
  4. Accuracy and fluency
  5. Contribution: To be assessed through a peer evaluation conducted by each group member assessing questions like: ‘Did each member contribute to the skit equally?’ or ‘Did all group members practice together?’

Please note that in case of video-recorded presentations, our expectations for 3) and 4) will be higher, because you can record scenes repeatedly and edit them later to create your final product.

3-modesA Observe & Consider

Reflecting on this Assignment:

Now that you’ve read Takako’s assignment, you probably noted how well this assignment does several of the things that we’ve highlighted in this module:

  • it has clear and specific instructions, including some format and length constraints,
  • it provides the instructor’s assessment criteria in advance,
  • it invites students to work collaboratively and cooperatively towards building or creating an original project,
  • it is scaffolded and has several milestones with deadlines along the way to completion of the final project, and
  • it encourages student self-reflection through its use of a group evaluation at the end of the project.

In the following podcast, you can hear Takako speak briefly with us this assignment, why it was designed in the way that it was, what she learned from the experience, and the insights that these student films gave her into the benefits of using active learning in her teaching. She also offers some useful context for what’s going on in the two films we feature later on this page (which we found really helpful in the absence of subtitles!)

Your browser does not support HTML5 audio. If you’d like to listen to the file, use the download link below.

Download the .mp3 (right-click and ‘save link as’)

Examples of Student Films

Obviously, a discussion of this active learning assignment wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t include a couple of examples of these student projects as evidence of the fruits of active learning. While there were more than a dozen student films, we’ve selected two of our favorites to share as examples of the kinds of work that motivated, empowered, active students at UW-Madison are capable of producing (even in entry-level courses) and without any special technology or film-making training!


We hope that you agree that these are outstanding, creative examples that clearly demonstrate meaningful student learning. It’s hard to believe that these are just first-year Japanese language learners. Our belief is that our courses are full of learners like these students (and like Bill Costello, the student we profiled in a video from earlier in this module), students who are curious, capable, eager to be stretched, and willing to fill an active role in their own learning. Like Takako, we’ve been continually surprised and impressed by what learners make and build when they’ve been properly prepared, sufficiently primed, and challenged to create products which showcase their knowledge or demonstrate their learning.

3-modesB Share & Connect

Active Learning Assignment Remix


In our discussion with Takako, she expressed a strong interest in hearing what our course participants thought of the assignment and welcomed any of your active learning-inspired suggestions, improvements, or modifications to this assignment. Hopefully, you’ve already gained experience as an active learning consultant through the improvements you’ve made or planned to your own teaching and learning and are feeling excited about the opportunity to put your skills and ideas to good use in the service of improved undergraduate education. Now that we’re nearing the conclusion of this active learning module, we have one final challenge for each of you:

  1. Imagine that you’ve been invited to serve as an educational consultant for Takako’s EA 104 course and have been asked specifically to examine the course’s capstone assignment, the Skit Presentation included above.
  2. In our conversation with Takako, she indicated that because this is an introductory language course the next time she gives this assignment she wants to ensure that students share the speaking work more equally among group members, even if they choose the film option over the live performance. What specific changes would you advise that she make to the assignment to help ensure this outcome? Share your ideas and comment on your peer’s suggestion in the discussion forum we’ve set up for this challenge.
  3. Reflect back on the various active learning strategies, approaches, and techniques we’ve considered over the past 4 weeks. What else would you modify, change, or alter to improve or adapt this assignment for the next instance of this course? Along with your suggestion(s) for improvement, please indicate briefly why you think your idea would be a helpful change and what its intended impact on student learning would be. Share these ideas along with your ideas for step 2 above.

Media Attributions

  • 3-modesB
  • 3-modesC


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