Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Active Learning in the Social Sciences

Friday January 22, 2016 by Anonymous (not verified)

Hello everyone,

I hope that this end of the first week of the Spring Semester finds you pleased with your work.  There is, I find, a profound sense of relief in knowing that one’s class in underway at last. So much goes into course planning and execution that it seems a small wonder when all the pieces come together:  your students have met you and you, them; you have established your goals and expectations for learning, and listened to the preconceptions that your students bring to class as well.  Together, you have set off on a path that will hopefully lead most in the room to new places of intellect and inquiry.

Certainly part of this path consists of finding varied ways in which your students can meaningfully interact with disciplinary content. In the last ten years, a lot of research has been conducted and disseminated about the ways in which active learning can make students in the natural sciences learn more effectively. What is lesser known is that this same research has also been conducted in the Social sciences, with researchers coming to very similar conclusions:  when college students actively engage with course materials, they learn the material better.  Researchers McCarthy and Anderson offer evidence of this in their article, “Active Learning Techniques versus Traditional Teaching Styles:  Two Experiments from History and Political Science” (Innovative Higher Education, 2000).  The research is a few years old, but the principle is highly relevant.  I particularly like these researchers’ experimental designs – not easy to achieve in a course as it is running.  I invite you to see what you think, and to let me know if you try something like this yourself, even if just in one part of one class. Who knows where your students will go?

Very best,

Nancy S. Niemi, Ph.D.
Director, Faculty Teaching Initiatives

Contact Information 

Contact Dr. Niemi via email Nancy.Niemi@yale.edu or phone 203.432.8644 with thoughts about the collection and/or to receive these notes in your inbox.


active learning, social sciences