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Case Study: Structured Active In-class Learning

Many of the University of Pennsylvania’s activities within the AAU Initiative fall under the umbrella of Structured Active In-class Learning (SAIL). Broadly speaking, the goal of SAIL classes is actively involving students in doing science and mathematics, rather than watching someone else do it or listening to them talk about it. All SAIL classes include three elements:

  1. establishing learning goals;
  2. in-class active engagement, and;
  3. use of out-of-class time (including watching on-line modules that contain short videos of lectures and demonstrations and tackling practice problems before they even arrive in class).

The university’s Center for Teaching and Learning serves as a central resource for faculty who teach SAIL classes or are interested in doing so. The Center provides both consultations and a formal program of support for faculty and TAs interested in this teaching, including a SAIL Seminar for faculty and SAIL TA Training. The Center also helps coordinate instructor access to active learning classrooms on campus.

In addition, along with the Vice Provost for Education, the Center invites faculty to submit proposals for course development grants to support the creation of SAIL classes. SAIL grants provide faculty with $5,000 for their preparation time or for graduate student assistance in the process of developing in-class exercises, any out-of-class materials, or assignments and assessments. As of the 2016-2017 year, there have been 13 SAIL grants in 11 different fields.

The number of SAIL courses continues to grow. In 2016-17, the university had 27 SAIL courses, including eight in non-STEM fields. This is an increase from nine total courses in 2013-14. Likewise, the number of instructors who teach SAIL courses increased from 12 to 33 during the same interval. Overall, 51 unique instructors at UPenn taught or will teach SAIL courses between 2014 and the summer of 2017, and numbers of both courses and instructors are expected to continue to grow.