Active Learning, Technology, and Spaces

Posted by Jenn Stringer, Associate CIO, Academic Engagement, UCB. Active Learning isn’t new, but it is gaining ground as a teaching modality on many of our campuses. The “Flipped Classroom” is just the latest popular flavor of active learning. Active learning techniques put the student at the center of the learning and require them to be engaged. They often they involve group work, case studies, Q&A sessions, hands on activities, team-based learning, etc. We know that active learning techniques improve student outcomes.

Scott Freeman, the author of a meta analysis of active learning in undergraduate STEM courses is quoted in a University of Washington interview, “If you have a course with 100 students signed up, about 34 fail if they get lectured to but only 22 fail if they do active learning according to our analysis.”

While active learning doesn’t require a special space or special technology – in fact I would point out that Professor Freeman employs active learning in a standard large lecture hall with no special technology – spaces and technology can often enhance active learning and enable particular active learning techniques that are not possible in large lecture halls.

Here at Berkeley we developed a successful Active Learning Classroom (ALC) program that built interest and support from faculty and that has now led to a partnership with the Registrar to re-envision 5 general assignment classrooms and turn them into ALCs. It started when Educational Technology Services (ETS) created a classroom called “The Test Kitchen” where faculty could sign up for a semester to try out an active learning in a space with movable furniture, multiple displays, and lots of mobile whiteboards. Over the course of several semesters, interest grew and the Registrar began to look for general assignment classrooms that could be turned into active learning teaching spaces. We now have faculty asking for an active learning space that will seat 100 students. You can watch this video about the UCB Active Learning Classrooms.

If you are interested in understanding more about what makes a classroom suited to support active learning, I encourage you to look at the EDUCAUSE Learning Space Rating System. Berkeley was one of the first beta-testers of this tool that scores a space based on seven principles that encourage student engagement and ensure support for the space.

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