Active learning classrooms officially launched

Ellis Hall classrooms have been in operation since January

Alan Harrison speaking Monday afternoon at Ellis Hall.
Image by: Natasa Bansagi
Alan Harrison speaking Monday afternoon at Ellis Hall.

The University officially launched three active learning classrooms in Ellis Hall on Monday.

The rooms are part of the Ellis Hall Active Learning Classrooms Project. According to its website, the project’s goals include “[creating] flexible learning spaces to enable active and collaborative learning” and “[encouraging] experimentation and innovation in course design and classroom activities.”

The three classrooms — Ellis 319, 321 and 333 — each emphasize something different: flexibility, a team-based approach and interactivity, respectively.

Features include tablet-arm chairs on wheels and whiteboards on the walls in Ellis 319, monitors at the end of every table in 321 and six-person round tables beside interactive displays, which can project laptop screens, in 333.

In the latter two classrooms, instructors can choose whether to display their screen or that of another group onto all groups’ screens.

Jill Scott, vice-provost of teaching and learning, said the smallest room holds approximately 40 people; the medium-sized room holds 60 to 68 people; and the largest room holds 136 people. The rooms took two years to develop, she added.

“We think about these rooms as sandboxes for instructors and for students to try out new and different things in innovative, active learning pedagogies,” Scott said.

In addition to the classrooms in Ellis Hall and two “tutorial-sized rooms” in Theological Hall, there are plans for other active learning rooms in the works.

“We’ve got a number of other spaces which we’re considering, basically, for refurbishment,” she said.

Russell and Katherine Morrison and the late Jack McGibbon donated a total of approximately $2.2 million for Ellis Hall’s active classrooms.

Andy Leger, an educational developer at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, works to support instructors who use the classrooms and assess how effective the rooms are for students and faculty.

Compared to “traditional classrooms”, he said, the active learning classrooms allow for more ease in collaborative work, generating discussion and presentations.

“If you’re in a traditional classroom and your group has to present, you’re forced to go to the front,” he said.

“[The active classrooms provide] a collaborative environment, where there’s that much more interaction, there’s that much more opportunity to discuss. There’s no front of the class.”

He added that student feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

However, he said some negative feedback arose from faculty members lecturing in the active classrooms, and in regards to instructors understanding the technology.

“There were certain classes that the faculty member chose to lecture. And the feedback was, you know, lecturing’s fine, but if you’re going to do that, don’t do that in these classrooms,” he said.

Leger said the rooms weren’t complete by the time they started being used last term, and this didn’t allow time to train instructors beforehand. This year, however, “bootcamps” were set up in the summer to train faculty before the new term.

Two general assessments of the classrooms took place in winter 2014, one halfway through the term and one at the end. This term, “more targeted assessments” will also be conducted, Leger said, assessing attributes and outcomes like teamwork and presentation anxiety in the active learning classrooms.

Leger said the active learning classrooms have created a “carry-over effect”, where instructors work to integrate elements they’ve employed in the active learning classrooms upon returning to traditional classroom settings.

“If we could have instructors come through here, sort of have that experience, and then take it and try to implement it in other spaces, then that would be one of the upsides of these spaces,” he said.

“Not just for the faculty that are in here at any one point in time, not just for the students that are in here at any one point in time, but they get the experience of being in here, sort of understanding and trying out new things, and then they take it to other spaces on campus.”



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