• Academic Technology

8 Active Learning Examples In Higher Education

With more and more universities moving to campus-wide implementations of our video platform, we see increasingly diverse uses for Panopto, both in terms of the range of disciplines now embracing video for learning and the ways in which instructors are using video to promote an active learning approach for their students.

At the heart of the active learning concept is the desire to fully engage students in the learning process so that they are not just the passive recipients of knowledge, but active participants and co-creators of their own learning. While there is no standard definition of active learning, it typically encompasses learning approaches that focus on students doing things (which could include group discussions, collaborative note-taking or recording their own presentations) and also reflecting on their own learning process (which could include mechanisms for self-reflection or engagement with assessment and feedback).

Related Reading: What Is Active Learning?


We’ve compiled stories from our customers featured on this blog over the past few years covering 8 different academic fields of study which detail how lecturers from across the whole spectrum of academia are using video to facilitate active learning and enhance engagement with their learners.

Active Learning Examples From 8 Different Fields of Study

1. Active Learning in Music

In some subjects, active learning approaches have always been at the forefront. We work with a number of specialist music colleges and conservatories where learning by doing is second nature for staff and students. Video has helped enhance this active learning approach even further by offering students new opportunities for self- and peer-reflection and instructors easier ways to demonstrate musical techniques.

In a recent guest blog post from Luke Hawkins, a student studying for a Performance MA at the University of Chichester, he outlined how he uses Panopto to record his piano playing from multiple angles. He then watches the recording back to assess his performance style and how it might come across to potential audience members. He shared one of his self-recorded multi-camera videos with us:



Being primarily learner-centred (as opposed to teacher-focused), this way of using video embodies a key premise of active learning. In Luke’s own words:

“My experiences so far have been very positive and I think Panopto provides a valuable insight into different areas of my instrumental progress. It gives me the ability to examine technique, posture and performance practice both during and after playing, which I have found really enlightening. As my playing technique changes I’ve been able to document and analyse my development.”

Luke’s instructor, Professor Laura Ritchie, has also showcased the ways she’s using video in her classes in a guest blog post for us. In her post, she comments:

“So, would I encourage other academics in performance-based subjects like music or drama to use lecture capture and student recordings? Most definitely.”

2. Active Learning in Literature

When it comes to promoting active engagement with learning resources throughout the learning journey, we’ve seen a number of academics re-thinking traditional approaches to delivering feedback to make it less passive. Creating engaging forms of feedback can help students grapple with their strengths and weaknesses more effectively and this has been implemented with great success by Dr Daniel Moore, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Moore has used Panopto to record feedback to his literature students’ essays, integrating audio commentary alongside screen capture of the essays themselves. In a guest blog covering the project, he described his aim to create “[…] more nuanced responses to student work.” This approach to feedback was rolled out more widely in the literature department and both staff and students quickly saw the benefits of this way of marking essays and assignments. As Dr Moore describes in his guest post:

“An overwhelming number of students said that their feedback felt more personal, focused on specific issues in concrete terms and offered practical advice that they could take forward. [….] Another key benefit for students was the ability to gain insight into the marking process and see their work through an academic’s eyes. Over time, they are also able to spot patterns in their feedback, as all videos are stored within the VLE.”

He went on to cover the staff view too:

“From a tutor’s perspective, giving feedback to students via video was seen as a great time saver, with staff reporting that when they switched to video feedback, the average time spent on the whole process was reduced by 10-25%. As well as saving time, tutors also saw pedagogic benefits. In certain instances, tutors felt that they could verbally provide critique that might seem overly harsh when simply written down.”

This approach to feedback addresses the metacognitive aspect of active learning, which is explored by Yale University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, covering the importance of students ‘thinking about thinking’ and better understanding their own learning process.

3. Active Learning in Fashion

At institutions that offer courses in highly visual subjects – as opposed to courses that rely heavily on text – learning technologists are beginning to consider whether text-based assessment and feedback approaches appropriately match the subject matter being studied or whether alternatives should be explored. At the University of Derby, they saw the potential of video to enhance student engagement on their BA Fashion course.

In the words of Rob Higson, Media Adviser in the Media Production and Support Team at Derby:

“I could see a lot of potential to use Panopto’s iPad app so that staff could capture ‘now moments’ of student-tutor interaction which could then be shared with students for their further growth and development. I also wanted to use technologies like visualisers with Panopto to record real-time demonstrations of practical student activities.”

The academic who spearheaded the project wanted to produce materials that supported students before, during and after face-to-face sessions. To this end, the team created video content for:

  • Demonstrative practical tutorials for self-study purposes, both in and out of class
  • Student-tutor feedback conversations and student presentations for post-session reflection

Students found the new learning resources very engaging, with one commenting: “[I] found the videos really useful. Particularly the video of our personal feedback as it’s easier to refresh your memory from watching this.”

The ‘flexible feedback project’, as it was known, covered a range of active learning processes, from capturing student-tutor conversations to offering opportunities for students to present and record themselves.

4. Active Learning in Business

At Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Associate Professor Till Winkler began using video for lecture capture, but quickly saw its potential to provide a wider variety of blended learning options to his students. He created short, condensed videos covering key themes that he wanted his students to learn and then added a range of active learning elements. As he comments in one of his
guest blog posts

I discovered that by having to pack all the key lecture content into videos of 4-6 minutes and combining them with online activities such as quizzes, polls, and short essays, I am actually more in control of each session. I think this compares favourably with a live lecture, which can actually be more variable in terms of quality and usefulness. [….] With video, you can craft consistently high-quality resources for your students. After all, you design the video lectures, you script them, you record them, so you can make them exactly as you like.”

CBS students were very responsive to Prof. Winkler’s video materials and he thinks that there are a number of pedagogical benefits that arise from using technology in this way. In the same post, he suggests that by using recordings like this, academics can: “[…] foster a more collaborative approach to learning and often respond to students’ learning needs in a more timely way.”

He has since expanded his use of online video learning even further, by experimenting with purely virtual course delivery – a process he outlines fully in the second part of a guest blog on our website.

5. Active Learning in Marketing

Another academic at the University of Chichester – Jennie White – experimented with video in her marketing classes. To enhance her students’ engagement, she began recording assignment briefs to improve students’ understanding of the marking criteria and what she expected from their essays. In order to do this, she took a submission from the previous year and used Panopto to record a video commentary on the submission, outlining where the student had done well and where they had lost marks.

In Jennie’s own words:

“[…] when I initially videoed the assignment brief and shared my marking process for the first time, many students hadn’t realised that I always start with the bibliography to see what resources they’ve used to complete their assignment. This has dramatically changed the standard of the scripts that I am currently marking, as the bibliographies are already much richer and the content is therefore far more informed. Of course, I have been telling students that this is how I mark for years but this is the first year that I have seen such a quantum leap in the quality of student assignments, so I think there is something about seeing the process on a recording that has really helped the message to sink in!”

This has injected a level of active engagement in the assignment process that hasn’t necessarily been possible before and Jennie built on these successes by taking her use of video even further. For instance, she began recording dissertation supervision meetings with her students. This meant that they didn’t have to take notes during the session, but could instead fully immerse themselves in the conversation, knowing they could revisit it later. She also live video marks assignments and has created micro lectures and pencasts.

This innovative approach to enhancing her pedagogical practice with video has contributed to Jennie winning the University of Chichester Students’ Union Lecturer of Year Award 2017 as well as the Award for Innovation in Teaching 2018, with Chichester students citing her varied uses of Panopto as a key reason for nominating and voting for her.

6. Active Learning in Geology

Different modes of interactive assessment are becoming increasingly commonplace at universities. A recent example of this comes from Birkbeck, University of London, where Deborah Grange and Steve Hirons from Birkbeck, University of London piloted an innovative initiative to implement a new form of video assessment for students on the institution’s BSc Geology course.

The driver for this use of video came when the staff running the course revisited the key competencies they were looking for from their students. One of these key competencies is the ability to describe rocks in a significant level of detail and half of a student’s final grade depends on this skill. Students’ proficiency in this area is tested during a viva voce session with a professional geologist.

As a result, the university felt they wanted to do more to help students hone their presentation skills and decided to replace their written assessment format they had been using to prepare students for the viva and try a more active approach with Panopto instead. By using Panopto, students could create audio commentaries accompanying visuals of different types of rocks.

Their recordings were uploaded into Panopto into a shared folder which could be accessed by other students on the course. This facilitated peer review and collaboration and encouraged the students to learn from each other.

The tutor on the course reported that this new approach to preparing students had improved their sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning process. The institution is also looking at how the technology can be used to support group work, offering new opportunities for students to review each other’s contributions and collaboratively generate their own geological descriptions.

7. Active Learning in Biology, Life Sciences, and Biomedical Sciences

The flipped classroom is another pedagogical approach that is designed to deliver a more active learning experience for students. We have seen the use of Panopto to power the flipped classroom grow and grow over the past few years. When we speak to members of our user community about why they want to flip their classes, they tell us that they have been able to do much more innovative things in the face-to-face sessions with students once they feel they’ve delivered the core concepts via video. This approach has been embraced by two science-based academics who have both contributed their stories on our website.

The first is Dr Jeremy Pritchard, Professor of Life Sciences Education, School of Biosciences and  Director of Education for the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. Describing the flipped teaching he now does as the most exciting teaching he has ever done, he began to flip his classes when he realised that certain tough concepts were proving too difficult for students to absorb in the live lecture. He realised that by using a flipped approach, he could let students learn these tricky ideas at their own pace in a less pressured environment, allowing them to come to the face-to-face session better prepared and more confident. He also felt that a flipped classroom model put the student at the heart of their own learning journey – a key idea in active learning. As he described in a case study on flipping his classes:

“I was interested in how you can use new teaching approaches to put some of the responsibility back on the student and open up time for more group work that will build students’ transferable skills.”

While he acknowledges that the flipped approach does require both instructors and students to adjust their behaviours and expectations, he believes that: “[…] the positive benefits for both lecturers and learners are significant.”

Another scientist exploring the potential of video to enhance student learning is Dr Martin Khechara, a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science (Microbiology) at the University of Wolverhampton. In a recent guest blog post for Panopto, he too talks about the impact of the flipped classroom on his teaching. At his institution – the University of Wolverhampton –  they have an entirely flipped model for teaching science at their Rosalind Franklin building. This means there are no traditional teaching spaces in the building – no classrooms or lecture theatres. There are also no “front of the class” teachers’ desks, lecterns or projectors. The idea was to create flipped classroom and flipped laboratory experiences that would free up lecturers’ time to deal with deeper level content or do more practical activities in the face-to-face session. Their new pedagogical approach also encouraged students to interact more with their peers to build their team working skills.

Dr Khechara shared an example of a flipped laboratory session with us, which you can view here. As well as using these types of flipped lab tutorials in a more conventional flipped style, he is now also using them in what he calls the ‘augmented flip’. This approach acknowledges the fact that even if students have watch the flipped content in advance, sometimes they may need to refresh their memories or rewatch certain parts of content again if they get stuck during a practical in class. Dr Khechara allows students to access flipped video tutorial content via QR codes which are accessible at their workbench. This allows instructors to deliver ‘Just In Time’ learning for students at the point of need.

Dr Khechara discusses the use of video to promote more active learning styles in the video below: 



8. Active Learning in Nursing and Medicine

Just as with the music example that began this post, there are many other subjects that have a practical or performative aspect that can’t be captured effectively in a document or diagram. These more practical subjects often lend themselves perfectly to being filmed. Nursing and medicine are two subjects in which showing is often more effective than telling. This doesn’t just apply to lecturers, but also to students themselves showing mastery of physical processes and procedures.

This was the case at the University of Essex in their pre-registration nursing degree programme, during which their student nurses have to be assessed in Nursing Skills Lab scenarios. The Nursing Skills Lab is an interactive educational space in which simulations of both medical emergencies and routine procedures can be played out in a safe environment. The simulations needed to be recorded for both self-reflection and instructor feedback purposes and the university decided to use Panopto to deliver this project at a larger scale than they had previously been able to achieve.

Opening up the possibility for both self-review and instructor feedback for every student in the full range of learning spaces has greatly enhanced the experience for their student nurses, with Natasha Morrison, a Lecturer in BSc Nursing commenting:

“With Panopto, we are able to deliver individual recordings of each student directly to them. This encourages both self- and peer-review, and allows teaching staff to effectively give both formative and summative feedback on every student’s performance, improving the overall learning experience.”

In another medical example of active learning approaches, at the University of Leicester Medical School, lecturers have started to use Panopto to capture feeds from visualisers to record drawings that capture how organs function or where they are situated in relation to other internal organs. This creates opportunities for academics to bring complex processes to life that are quite literally hidden inside the body. It also enhances a traditional lecture, by allowing the lecture to illuminate a point in a more engaging way, by showing, not just telling.

Terese Bird, Educational Designer and SCORE Research Fellow at the institution outlines their approach to delivering more active learning approaches for their medical students in this short video:



Using Video In Higher Education

For many colleges and universities today, video is used for far more than just lecture capture.

In this webinar, hosted by Alan Greenberg of Wainhouse Research, you’ll hear from professors and technologists who have pioneered the use of the flipped classroom and student assessment recording in their universities. They’ll share their own best practices and key considerations for using video as part of any course curriculum, and more.

Watch the Webinar: How Video Is Transforming Higher Education Beyond Lecture Capture >>