New tool to measure active learning

Published 2017-03-07

Photo: SFSU

Measuring student learning and quantitatively analyzing the effects of educational pedagogy is a complex and difficult task. In an effort to simplify measurements of the levels of active learning that occur in a classroom, researchers at San Francisco State University have developed a new tool called DART – decibel analysis for research in teaching. DART analyzes simple audio recordings of classroom sounds to measure the extent to which teachers incorporate active learning and innovative teaching strategies in their curriculum. Many teachers, including those in the sciences, are looking for ways to improve their teaching and effectiveness in the classroom, but often lack tools that allow them to measure their progress. The DART tool was designed to allow teachers to ask and answer the question, “How much class time do I devote to engaging my students in active learning?”.

To test the validity and reliability of the DART tool, SFSU researchers analyzed recordings of classroom activities from over 80 professors and instructors at community college and universities. A trained evaluator also sat in on these classes to take notes on instructional methods that the teachers used to ground-truth DART analysis of the audio recordings. The tool was capable of classifying audio recordings of the classroom with 90% accuracy into three categories:

1. Single voice – traditional lecture with question and answer
2. Multiple voice – student interactive group work
3. No voice – student thinking, writing, or individual problem solving

This research offers new ways to measure and classify teaching methods and the use of active learning in the classroom. As this technology develops, it may have important implications to curriculum design, teacher training, and studies on the impact of active learning for student success.

DART can be used in any classroom environment and is free to access online at In the future, an app will be developed for this project.