Learn how to introduce active learning into your course and still cover your entire syllabus. STEM education expert and Professor Emeritus at North Carolina State University, Richard M. Felder, and Rebecca Brent, President of Education Design, Inc., and an expert consultant in faculty development, show you step-by-step how to introduce active learning into your class using a well-tested, and easy to implement strategy . The information contained in this deck is derived from Felder and Brent’s new book, Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide, published by Wiley.
How to Use Handouts
with Gaps to Foster
Mine the Gap*
Dr. Richard M. Felder, Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus
of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University
Dr. Rebecca Brent, President of Education Designs, Inc.
*Based on material in Reference 1.
The Active Learning Dilemma
The words on most educators’ lips these days are active
learning. We have conducted scores of teaching workshops,
and there is always at least one participant who will ask,
“How can I cover my syllabus if I start
filling my lectures with activities?”
Resolving the Active
When faced with this question, there are three
answers we typically provide;
1. Teaching is not about coverage, but about learning.
Coverage ≠ Learning.
2. Start small. A few minutes worth of activity in a 50
min class won’t do irreparable harm to your syllabus.
3. You can maintain and even expand your syllabus
using a simple technique—handouts with gaps.
Mining the Gap - Preparation
1. Put your lecture notes into class handouts, or a course pack.
2. Show the straightforward parts of the lecture material—
definitions, facts, key equations, etc.
3. Intersperse the above with gaps (blank spaces),
into which students will be asked to place more challenging
material such as partial solutions, diagrams, derivations,
process or flow charts, labels, and code snippets.
For an example of a handout with gaps and an outline of how it would be covered in class, copy
and access this web page: www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/Handout_with_gaps.pdf
Mining the Gap – Using
Handouts With Gaps in Class
1. Ask your students to open their handout or course
pack to the appropriate page.
2. Allow them a short period of time to read the
portion of the page that precedes a gap.
3. Stop the reading and ask if any students have
questions. (They usually don’t.)
Mining the Gap – Using
Handouts With Gaps in Class
Your students have read a portion of the handout, and
they say they don’t have any questions. Now what?
Go to the gap!
From this point you can select one of three options.
Mining the Gap—Option № 1
1. When you reach the first gap, remind students that
what they just read was straightforward but what goes
in the gap often gives students trouble. (You don’t
need to repeat this reminder for subsequent gaps.)
2. Lecture on the gap traditionally, ideally by writing on
a board or tablet computer rather than just showing a
slide with the complete gap content.
When you use this method, you are focusing the
class time on material the students cannot quickly
get without your help.
Mining the Gap—Option № 2*
1. Ask students to get into groups of two or three.
Allow them a short period of time to get as far as they
can in filling in the gap.
2. When time’s up, call randomly on students to report
on what they got.
3. Write correct answers on the board so everyone
in the class gets them. As the answers go up on the
board, the students who couldn’t fill the gap will now
pay careful attention, ask questions when necessary,
and understand it by the end of class.
Some students will fill the gap and therefore “own
it” because they did it themselves, not by watching
you do it and imagining they understood it. (Few
students understand complex material when
listening passively to a lecture.)
*We typically find this option to be more effective than the first.
Mining the Gap—Option № 3*
Leave filling in the gap as an exercise for the
students to complete outside of class.
1. Tell your students that you do not plan on going
over the gap in class, but they should make sure they
know what goes in the blank space before the next
2. Allow students to collaborate with one another and
ask about it in class.
3. Open your office to students to come in and discuss
if they cannot figure it out on their own.
4. BONUS! If you fall behind your lecture schedule,
increase your use of this option for easier and less
Mine the Gap—Conclusions
When you use handouts with gaps, you’ll cover your
syllabus and possibly even extend it, even though you’re
taking time for activities.
Why? Because you’re letting the students read through
the straightforward material themselves, rather
than saying every word, drawing every diagram, and
working through every step of the problem yourself.
The brief amount of time students spend struggling in
class is followed by immediate feedback, saving many
students from hours of wrestling with similar exercises.
Mine the Gap—The Research
Research has confirmed that handouts with gaps
have a powerful impact on students’ learning and
performance on assignments and tests. In several
studies, students who got incomplete notes on course
material earned higher exam grades, higher course
grades, and higher marks on conceptual questions
than students who had complete notes.2-4
1. Felder, R.M., & Brent, R. (2016). Teaching and Learning
STEM: A Practical Guide, Section 4.7 and Chapter 6. San
2. Cornelius, T.L., & Owen-DeSchryver , J. (2008).
Differential effects of full and partial notes on learning
outcomes and attendance. Teaching of Psychology
3. Hartley, J., & Davies, I.K. (1978). “Note-taking: A critical
review.” Programmed Learning & Educational Technology,
4. Kiewra, K.A. (1989). A review of note-taking: The
encoding storage paradigm and beyond. Educational
Psychology Review, 1(2), 147
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