Active Learning Classroom

 

by Emily Bartelheim
September 2016

Education is forever transforming—from technique to modality to technology, and now to classroom. Faculty across Ohio University have branched out of the traditional lecture-based classroom to an Active Learning Classroom (ALC) on the Athens Campus: Schoonover 450.

ALCs originated with the aim to combine lecture, discussion, and lab into one space, while fostering student-centered, active learning. The value of their design is that it supports active learning pedagogy and collaborative problem-solving (Baepler, Walker, Brooks, Saichaie, & Peterson, 2016). Ohio University’s Schoonover 450 was designed to hold true to this purpose.

Features of Schoonover 450

  • Capacity: seats 135
  • Group tables to support small-group work: nine students to a table
    • Each table has computer inputs and a television screen.
    • As students do group work, they can display their information on the television screen by their table and share it.
  • Three large projector monitors
    • Can operate independently; instructors can potentially have three separate sources up at any given time during their class.
    • Any of the group tables’ television screens can be displayed on one of the monitors by the instructor to be more easily shared with the entire class.
  • White boards on every wall of the room for brainstorming and diagramming: one board for every two tables

Research on ALCs

When directly comparing the use of active-learning techniques in traditional classrooms versus ALCs, ALCs have been proven to have an independent and statistically significant positive impact on student learning as measured by grades (Brooks, 2011). ALCs have been found to encourage student and instructor behavior, have a positive impact on learning outcomes, and lead to students experiencing higher levels of enjoyment and self-reported learning.

OHIO faculty have experienced this increased learning and engagement with their students when using Schoonover 450. Mary Rogus, associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, teaches a media ethics course in the room with upward of 120 students, and says the class wouldn’t be the same in another space. “Before I had a classroom like Schoonover 450,” Rogus said, “I really wasn’t able to fully engage the students the way I wanted to.”

When courses are taught in an ALC, instructor–student relationships have been found to become more close, and students experience the full benefits of active learning teaching techniques (Baepler et al., 2016).

Effects on Students

Dr. Brittany Peterson, associate professor in the School of Communication Studies, greatly enjoyed “the ability to actually get students involved and engaged and have them really participate and do activities.” She also said instead of having students verbally report back the activities, in the ALC she can have them visibly demonstrate the things they have created during class.

In addition to being well-liked by many faculty, the ALC also popular with the students that have used it. Students are more challenged in this type of environment, but it also shows through their work that they are truly learning the material. “This classroom is pretty much awesome. It’s the embodiment of active learning,” Rogus said. “It’s a perfect environment to take a large class and make it into a small class, increasing participation and discussion.”

Challenges with the ALC

One teaching-style challenge of the ALC is that there is no good single location for the instructor to stand and lecture. In fact, it’s beneficial to move around and walk through the room during the class. “Sometimes that means tripping over backpacks or trying to navigate my way around tables in ways that don’t make a lot of logical sense,” Dr. Peterson said, “but it forces the students to see my presence right near them and it jolts their attention back to what’s going on in the space.”

There may also be challenges associated with learning the technology in the space, but there are small workshops held before the start of each semester for faculty signed up to teach in the ALC. At these session, instructional designers from the Office of Instructional Innovation discuss teaching strategies and technology. Other faculty who have taught in the space also attend to provide their perspectives.

Effects on Pedagogy

Some may not think their class would work in an ALC, but the space really is suited for any subject. “It really doesn’t matter what the material is,” Rogus said. “The idea is that this kind of space allows the students to engage with the material.”

Studies have shown that ALCs have deep impact on learning and engagement, particularly when the classes in the room are intentionally designed for the room. Dr. Peterson’s view of teaching has been “fundamentally shaken” by Schoonover 450. Teaching in the space has reduced her feeling that she needs to lecture a lot during class. The ALC has pushed her to embrace a quasi-flipped classroom model, which expects students to have already learned the content before coming to class, and then really diving into concepts during class time.

One of the things Rogus has learned using the ALC is that she doesn’t have to use every aspect of the room for every class. “When you have a space like this that is so technology-heavy, one of the challenges is not to go overboard and not to feel like you’re ruled by the technology,” she said. “We still need to be ruled by the content, the material, and how best to present that to the students and get them engaged with it.”

The ALC also lends itself to a more fast-paced classroom. A technique used in some OHIO ALC classes is purposefully changing topics every 10–15 minutes to help keep students engaged. These quickly-changing topics could be pivoting from bits of lecture or a content segment to an activity, to a debriefing, and then back to another exercise or worksheet. “It keeps the students focused on what’s going on as opposed to distracted in the space,” Dr. Peterson said.

Opportunities of the ALC

One memorable experience Dr. Peterson had in the ALC was having industry professionals Skype into class, including an executive employed with Google, a social media analytics specialist, and a personal branding professional. She also held a class in which her students “debated” topics using the microphones/sound system in the room while the rest of the class live-tweeted in response to what was happening. Rogus has also utilized live-tweeting during her classes—one large projector monitor can show a website, PowerPoint, or guest speaker, and another monitor can simultaneously show the class’s live Twitter feed streaming so everyone can participate.

Learning Spaces Across OHIO’s Athens Campus

Schoonover 450 is just one of the many emerging classroom designs on OHIO’s campuses. Students today have choices, and classroom designs speak volumes regarding the kind of experience they can expect at our campuses. Flexible designs, ALCs, maker spaces, innovation hubs, design studios, and many more design approaches are coming to campuses across higher ed. OHIO is fully engaged in this effort under the stewardship of a taskforce involving faculty and administrative partners from across the institution. If you have thoughts about how classrooms for the future should be designed, or want to participate in actively exploring new designs, let us know at oii@ohio.edu.

The Office of Instructional Innovation (OII) serves as a catalyst to spark bold experimentation and sustainable discovery of promising new approaches to instruction. OII provides a variety of services to academic units and faculty, online programs and students, as well as additional initiatives to further the institution’s mission. Visit www.ohio.edu/instructional-innovation for more information.