Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Debriefing Lab Content Using Active Learning Was Found To Improve

In a large lecture course, our lab sessions provide highly scaffolded programming
exercises. Student feedback on the labs is positive, but some students are not achieving
the related learning goals, perhaps because the exercises are scripted. We therefore
decided to research the question: would a short debrief of the lab content using 5-10
minute active learning exercises in the subsequent lecture significantly improve
We used our Fall 2015 course as a control group (lecture only) and our Fall 2016 course
as the treatment group (active learning). The active learning treatment replaced 5-10
minutes each lecture following a lab with: (1) small group discussions of 1-2 multiple
choice questions requiring recall and/or application of lab concepts, and (2) an
instructor-led debrief of questions. After controlling for differences among student
cohorts, we found that students experiencing active learning performed 5% better on the
same lab-related exam questions.

McCarthy, Michael
Mertz, Joseph
Melville, Michael
Hershock, Chad
Eberly Center