About the CAL ACT Institutes Active Learning in STEM Literature Contact Us


To promote the institutionalization of active learning (AL) in math and science classrooms at California Lutheran University and Oxnard College, we have launched the Center for Active Learning (CAL). The CAL is funded by Oxnard College’s five-year Title III grant, Project Acabado, in collaboration with CLU.

The CAL ACT Institutes
(ACT = Active, Collaborative, Transformative
Teaching and Learning)

A CAL ACT Institute is a hands-on, 1-day workshop intended to promote the spread of active learning in science and math classrooms. Among other activities, ACT Institute faculty participants will:

- evaluate and analyze empirical studies that support AL pedagogy;
- evaluate and rank sample recorded classes on a “traditional” to AL scale;
- reflect and rank their own current pedagogy on a “traditional” to AL scale;
- identify ways to apply AL in “lecture” classes;
- convert at least one of their current passive teaching elements to an AL one.

The next CAL ACT Institute is set for Saturday, October 26 - registration is now closed.

Participating faculty will receive a $500 stipend for attending the October 26th Institute, and a
$250 stipend for attending a luncheon in early 2020 as a follow-up networking activity.

Faculty will leave each institute with:

- an understanding of the operational definition of AL;
- a solid foundation in the constructivist educational theory underlying AL;
- an appreciation for the positive impacts of AL pedagogy in improving student learning outcomes and in
     reducing achievement gaps between traditional and underrepresented students;
- an awareness that AL encompasses many different, complementary, pedagogical approaches;
- an ability to create AL course environments that reflect the process of science;
- a concrete action plan to implement AL in at least some of their classes;
- a network of peers seeking to deepen their own understanding and implementation of AL.

Active Learning Literature

Limitations of traditional lectures as a primary pedagogical tool in teaching science are widely recognized. Unfortunately, this class format prevails as the most common approach to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at the post-secondary level. STEM courses should afford the opportunity to practice critical thinking and high-order cognition, help students integrate knowledge into conceptual frameworks, guide them in linking prior learning to new knowledge, and aid them in developing problem solving skills that promote the application of concepts. However, these goals are rarely realized for the majority of students in traditional lectures (National Research Council, [NRC] 2000; McCray et al. 2003; Honan 2002; Knight 2004; Freeman et al. 2011). For most students, lecturing promotes memorization of facts rather than fostering deep understanding (Wright et al. 1998; Loverude et al. 2002), and even high academic achievers sometimes gain little understanding of basic science concepts through traditional didactic lectures (Sundberg 2002).

To remedy this situation, clarion calls for reform of standard lecture delivery by incorporating active learning (AL) in the classroom have been forwarded by august science education advisory bodies and science education researchers (Froyd, 2007; Nielsen, 2011; NRC 2000, 2003; National Science Foundation 1996; The Boyer Commission, 1998; Bonwell and Eisen, 1991; Cerbin 2012; Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education 2011; Handelsman et al. 2004).

Indeed, there is a broad empirical fundament that supports the use of AL in science classrooms (e.g., reviewed by Handelsman et al. 2007; Prince 2004; Knight 2004; Allen and Tanner 2005; Freeman, et al. 2014). Specific examples of the benefits of AL in undergraduate biology education include:

1) the observation that substituting daily and weekly practice in problem-solving, data analysis, and other higher-order cognitive skills for lecture-intensive course design improved the performance of all students and reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students (Haak et al. 2011);

2) the finding that an intense, inquiry-based, learner-centered experience was associated with long-term improvements in academic performance (Derting and Ebert-May 2010);

3) the measurement of significantly higher learning gains and better conceptual understanding when student participation and cooperative problem solving during class time was substituted for traditional lecturing (Knight and Wood 2005);

4) evidence that teaching biology in an AL environment is more effective than traditional instruction in promoting academic achievement, increasing conceptual understanding, developing higher level thinking skills, and enhancing students’ interest in biology (Burrowes  2003; Marcey, 2014);

5) the observation of pronounced differences between students taught biology traditionally and those taught with a series of active, inquiry-based learning modules (Udovic et al. 2000), termed “Workshop Biology.”


Allen, D., and Tanner, K. (2005). Infusing active learning into the large-enrollment biology class: seven strategies, from the simple to complex. Cell Biol. Educ. 4, 262–268.

Bonwell, C.C., and Eison, J.A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. Educational Research Information Center and The National Teaching and Learning Forum. Accessed April 29, 2012 from [http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/91-9dig.htm].

Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University (1998). Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities. Accessed February 16, 2012 from [http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED424840].

Burrowes, P.A. (2003). A Student-Centered Approach to Teaching General Biology That Really Works: Lord's Constructivist Model Put to a Test. The American Biology Teacher, 65: 491– 502.

Cerbin, B. (2012). Assessing How Students Learn. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. [http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/perspectives/assessing-how-students-learn].

Derting, T.L., Ebert-May, D. (2010). Learner-Centered Inquiry in Undergraduate Biology: Positive Relationships with Long-Term Student Achievement. CBE Life Sciences Education, 9: 462–472.

Eberlein, T., Kampmeier, J., Minderhout, V., Moog, R.S., Platt, T., Varma-Nelson, P., and White, H.B. (2008). Pedagogies of Engagement in Science. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36: 262–273.

Freeman, S, Eddy, S., McDonough, M, Smith, M, Okoroafor, N, and M.P. Wenderoth (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS, 111: 8410–8415, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111.

Froyd, D. (2007). Evidence for the Efficacy of Student-active Learning Pedagogies. Project Kaleidoscope. [http://www.pkal.org/keywords/Pedagogies.cfm].

Haak, D.C., HilleRisLambers, J., Pitre, E., and Freeman, S. (2011). Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology. Science, 332: 1213-1216.

Handelsman, J., D., Ebert-May, R., Beichner, P., Bruns, A., Chang, R., DeHaan, J., Gentile, S., Lauffer, J., Stewart, J., Tilghman, S.M., and Wood, W.B. (2004). Scientific Teaching. Science, 304: 521–522.

Honan, W.H. (2002, August 14). The college lecture, long derided, may be fading. The New York Times, Section B, p. 7.

Knight J.K., Wood W.B. (2005).  Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell Biology Education, 4(4):298-310.

Knight, R.D., (2004). Five Easy Lessons – Strategies for Successful Physics Teaching. Pearson Education, Addison Wesley.

Loverude, M.E., Kautz, C.H., and Heron, P.R.L. (2002). Student understanding of the first law of thermodynamics: Relating work to the adiabatic compression of an ideal gas. American Journal of Physics, 70(2), 137–148.

Marcey, DJ. The Lecture Hall as an Arena of Inquiry: Using Cinematic Lectures and Inverted Classes (CLIC) to Flip an Introductory Biology Lecture Course (2014). In Blended Learning, Case Studies on Digital Collaboration and Blended/Hybrid Learning: 2014 Special Issue, The Academic Commons.

McCray, R.A., R. DeHaan, and J.A. Schuck (Eds) (2003). Improving undergraduate instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: Report of a workshop. National Research Council, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. [http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10711].

National Research Council. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. [http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9853.html].

National Research Council. (2003). Improving Undergraduate Instruction in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: Report of a Workshop. National Academies Press. Washington, DC. [http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10711].

National Research Council. (2003). BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. [http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309085357].

National Science Foundation. (1996). Report of the Advisory Committee to the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources. Shaping the Future: New Experiences for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology. http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf9873/nsf9873.doc].

Nielsen, N. (2011). Promising Practices in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education: Summary of Two Workshops. Planning Committee on Evidence on Selected Innovations in Undergraduate STEM Education. National Research Council Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. The National Academies Press. Washington, DC. [http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13099].

Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93: 223-231.

Ruiz-Primo, M.A., Briggs, D., Iverson, H., Talbot, R., Shepard, L.A. (2011). Impact of undergraduate science course innovations on learning. Science, 331: 1269–1270.

Sundberg, M.D. (2002). Assessing student learning. Cell Biology Education, 1: 11–15.

Udovic, D., Morris, D., Dickman, A., Postlethwait, J., and Wetherwax, P. (2002). Workshop Biology: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Active Learning in an Introductory Biology Course. Bioscience, 52: 272- 281.

Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (2011). http://visionandchange.org/files/2011/03/Revised-Vision-and-Change-Final-Report.pdf, Accessed on April 1, 2017.

Wright, J.C., Millar, S.B., Kosciuk, S.A., Penberthy, D.L., Williams, P.H., and Wampold, B.E. (1998). A novel strategy for assessing the effects of curriculum reform on student competence. Journal of Chemical Education, 75(8), 986–992.


Contact Us

Please contact us if you would like more information on the CAL or on ACT Institutes.
Michael McCambridge and David Marcey, CAL Co-Directors.

Dr. Michael McCambridge
Professor of Education and Director of Interdisciplinary Educational Studies
Graduate School of Education
California Lutheran University
60 W Olsen Rd, MC4100
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360


Dr. David Marcey
Fletcher Jones Professor of Developmental Biology
Department of Biology
California Lutheran University
60 W Olsen Rd, MC3700
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360