Active Learning Classroom open for business


BOWLING GREEN, O.—When you first enter 126 Hayes Hall, it hits you immediately — this is not your average college classroom.  The tables are round and surrounded by five flat screen television monitors.  The lectern isn’t at the front, but in the center of the room, with a large remote control-looking device anchored on top.  By the entrance, a cabinet holds 36 iPads for student use.

The room is the first Active Learning Classroom (ALC) on campus and the result of collaboration between the Chief Information Officer (CIO), Capital Planning and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

Active Learning Classrooms are designed to promote cooperative and problem-based learning. Many institutions such as McGill University and the University of Minnesota have embraced this design.

The chairs are color-coded and feature either dots or stripes, which makes it easier to split the room into groups. Removable “huddle boards” or wipe boards can be passed around. Each table is equipped with HDMI cables and power sources. Student work can be shown on the flat screens and the instructor can even choose one in particular to be shared across all the screens.

“We want to build classrooms that are flexible, with enough technology that they become tools for faculty and students to use.”

According to Bonnie Fink, director of the CTL, the idea for the classrooms evolved from a committee started several years ago dubbed the “Classroom of the Future.”

“When John Ellinger started as the CIO, he and I had an initial meeting and really talked a lot about a symbiotic relationship that has to exist between pedagogy, instructional design and technology,” Fink said. “This room is built based on research, an actual space that is designed to promote the use of active learning pedagogy. In fact, the ‘welcome to the classroom’ training actually teaches faculty about the research behind it.”

“Where I started from was the position that technology utilization in the classrooms on this campus is certainly not where it could be,” said Ellinger. “There are a lot of overhead projectors sitting in the front of classrooms, which then talks about the style of classrooms that we have – fixed seating and traditional lecture style from the front of the room. A lot of the momentum in classroom technology surrounds not just the use of technology in the classroom but also the portability of technology in the classroom.”

Dr. Carney Strange, a professor of higher education and student affairs, has used the active learning classroom twice for one of his graduate classes. He says that while there have been some frustrations with the technology, there is no comparison between this room and his usual one in the Education Building.

“When we walk into this room the acoustics are good, it’s comfortable like a living room and we’re in more of a workshop environment that students like,” he explained. “The round tables are perfect for what we’re trying to do.”

“I like the flexibility, which allows for more group work,” said Ryan Bronkema, one of Strange’s students, who has also helped with the rollout of the ALC, conducting workshops and presentations to show all the options available. “It’s interaction-friendly, and the opportunity to communicate with your peers is much easier.”

During class Strange’s students utilized their iPads to display various websites and Google docs on the flat screens for discussion.

Bronkema hopes the University will seriously consider renovating more classrooms in this style. “I think you could do this without all the technology and with just the design. Some institutions have up to 200 rooms like this one. I would love to see the investment in design and furniture.”

According to Ellinger, the fixed nature of the furniture in 126 Hayes is considered the “Minnesota model” of the ALC. “The folks at McGill took another path, which was to be completely flexible in the room – rolling wedge desks that can be put into rows, circles or small groups, and portable cabinets with laptops or tablets. Everything is wireless. There are disadvantages and advantages to both.”

Faculty will get a chance to see a “McGill” totally flexible classroom at work in the fall of 2013 when a redesigned 207 Olscamp is scheduled to open.  

Ellinger says 207 Olscamp and 126 Hayes will give faculty and administrators some examples to consider when discussions start on the renovations of the Traditions Buildings. “We want to build classrooms that are flexible, with enough technology that they become tools for faculty and students to use.”

Surveys are available to everyone who uses 126 Hayes, whether it’s for a class or meeting. “One of the things we really thought was imperative after we started collaborating is to time this with the classroom renovations,” said Fink. “We’ve always thought it would be a great idea to get input from faculty, staff and students to drive some of that planning to really understand what people are looking for.”

Both Fink and Ellinger agree that all the technology can be overwhelming at first. “No one goes into the room without some training,” Fink said. “We give them time to use the equipment beforehand and actually recommend that they start small and then add things.

“This is truly a professional development test bed space – all these things we’re learning about, what works and what doesn’t, you can’t learn until you have a space like that. We want as much feedback as we can get.”

If you want to learn more about the classroom, you can sign up for an upcoming workshop being run by the CTL.  Workshops will be held from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Dec. 10, and 1-2 p.m. Dec. 13. To register, contact the CTL at 419-372-6898, ctl@bgsu.edu or register online. Space is limited to 32 people.

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(Posted December 05, 2012 )