For example, “Write a 500 word biography of Marie Curie highlighting her accomplishments in Physics” requires little thinking about the nature of the task. On the other hand, this question is more ambiguous: [/column]“Some governments argue that there is an increased need for surveillance of public communication. Others take the view that this activity violates civil rights. Take a stand on this issue and make a compelling case for it.”
This issue needs to be contextualized. What part of the world are we talking about and who are the players involved? What constitutes “public communication”? Students must define the key elements of the debate before they can choose a side and begin their research.
As a second step in accomplishing this task a student team would have to decide:
- what form their “case” presentation will take
- what research needs to be done
- who will do what
- what will the project timeline look like
These two types of challenge are what ensure that authentic active learning activities are ill-defined. When students have to define the terms of the activity and then plan how to carry out their tasks they are more deeply engaged, can see a greater real-world relevance in their work, learn to utilize the skills of their team members, and develop their organizational skills.