Activities for everywhere! Even for auditoriums.

We will present two examples of active learning and the blog Our examples are taken from biology in higher education, but the ideas can be applied in other subject areas and levels.

This blog post is in English as it is dedicated to 
the ISSOTL (International Society for the 
Scholarship of Teaching & Learning) conference 
October 24.-28. 2018 in Bergen.

About the blog

The blog was started in April 2018, with the intention to spread and share learning resources relevant for biology in higher education. Each blog post is kept rather simple and easy to read, and illustrated. Links to research are included in most of the posts.

The blog posts are sorted in four categories:

  • «Verktøykasse»: A tool box with activities, learning resources, tips & tricks for teaching biology
  • «Fugleperspektiv»: A bird’s eye view on teaching and learning
  • «Ut i jungelen»: Recommended links, articles and books, a pathway into the didactic jungle
  • «Menneskedyret i klasserommet»: Teaching and learning in an evolutionary perspective

Other members of the faculty are invited to write about their teaching and learning resources at the blog. The language is Norwegian, but almost all of the recommended links and articles are written in English.

Quote from Why don’t students like school? Daniel Willingham.

Example 1: overview of concepts in ecology

This exercise can work as repetition or retrieval, to check or activate students’ background knowledge, or simply to get assured that these concepts are well known.


Work in small groups of 4 ± 1 students.
Read the concepts in the envelope. 

Discuss and agree upon a system to systematize the 
concepts. There's not a single "correct" way of 

What is your system, 
and why have you sorted the concepts that way?

Alternative: Pick a concept by chance or choice and explain for the other students. The ecology concepts is available as a pdf here.

Find your system with concepts in ecology.

Example 2: Parasite of the Year

Each student has prepared a brief presentation prior to the lecture.


The students have prepared a 3 minutes presentation 
of their chosen parasite.

-Each parasite gets 3 minutes to present itself. 
-Individual presentations. 
-Add role-play if you feel comfortable doing so. 
-Free choice of parasite.

Humor is advisable. (Nearly) everything that increases the probability that your parasite will be remembered is allowed. Choose your parasite, do the research and prepare your audition!

Cymothoa exigua, or speaking of parasites.

Alternative: group presentations. If there’s many students, groups of approximately 4 students can choose and present parasites. The groups can still use role-play or other methods as they like.

Each presentation should answer the following questions: 

-Who is the parasite? 
-Who is the host? 
-An overview of the life cycle – not detailed! 
-Why is your parasite the best choice for 
Parasite of the Year?
Carry on: a parasite and its host.

Credits are given the parasite (student) for:
-Empathy with the parasite’s life cycle
-Learning outcomes for fellow students


-Three students will judge the audition. 
-The jury rates the performance on a scale 
ranging from 0 to 10. 
-Maximum score is 30 points.

A pdf with details of Parasite of the Year can be found here.

This exercise activates the students, function as flipped classroom and let the students be prepared for the lesson, adds variation and increase the engagement, and it is great fun!

Parasite of the Year has also undergone a metamorphosis and visited the Department of Earth Science as Fossil of the Year. You will probably find possibilities in most subject matters. Dictator of the Year?

The winner is…

The fungus genus Cordyceps has earlier been awarded as Parasite of the Year. You can watch a brief presentation by David Attenborough here, accompanied with classical music and ecological implications.

Cordyceps, a parasite on insects and other arthropods.

The winner is usually given a prize. A placemat can be a valuable resource for repetition during lunch or dinner, and life cycles are extraordinary well suited for decoration around the border of a dinner plate.

The prize is a set of two placemats showing the life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii, giving the winner the opportunity to invite to dinner.

Lunch, championship in skiing and Toxoplasma gondii.

Feel free to contact us!

Kjersti Lea is Associate Professor in Pedagogy at the Department of Pedagogy, University of Bergen. Kjersti.Lea(at)

Jorun Nyléhn is Associate Professor in Science Didactics at Department of Biological Sciences, University of Bergen. Jorun.Nylehn(at)

Suggested reading

Anderson, R. C. (2018). Creative Engagement: Embodied Metaphor, the Affective Brain, and Meaningful Learning. Mind, Brain, and Education, online first:
Corkin, D. M., Horn, C., & Pattison, D. (2017). The effects of an active learning intervention in biology on college students’ classroom motivational climate perceptions, motivation, and achievement. Educational Psychology, 1-19.
Jensen, J. L., Kummer, T. A., & Godoy, P. D. d. M. (2015). Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 14(1).
Markant, D. B., Ruggeri, A., Gureckis, T. M., & Xu, F. (2016). Enhanced Memory as a Common Effect of Active Learning. Mind, Brain, and Education, 10(3), 142-152.


Cymothoa exigua. Marco Vinci,
Tetragnatha montana parasitized by Acrodactyla quadrisculpta larva. Miller et al., Biodiversity Data Journal 1: e992. DOI:10.3897/BDJ.1.e992.,
Cordyceps militaris. Andreas Kunze,
Placemat with Toxoplasma gondii in use. Espen Rustad. 

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