Magazine article University Business

Interactive Lecture Halls: Active Learning in the Large Classroom

Magazine article University Business

Interactive Lecture Halls: Active Learning in the Large Classroom

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Students enrolled in media ethics at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall walked into a lecture hall that looked radically different than two years ago. Gone is the stadium-style seating. Now the room, used for a wide range of courses, has 100 rolling swivel chairs with adjustable tables and nine mounted video screens. After associate professor Lois Boynton gives a mini-lecture or shows a video, student teams of four to six work on an ethical journalism dilemma. Then they regroup to present their conclusions to the full class.

"I love the open teaching space," says Boynton, who taught in the hall, Greenlaw 101, before it was renovated. "We can all see each other and interact much more effectively than in a lecture hall with fixed seats."

Outfitted with moveable chairs through a grant from the furniture company Steelcase, the room is part of a wave of lecture halls that have been transformed into active learning classrooms on campuses in the past five years. Colleges and universities have been redesigning smaller classrooms into interactive spaces for nearly a decade. So reconfiguring the traditional lecture hall can be seen as the next logical step in this pedagogical movement.

"Even though we've been teaching in lecture halls, what we've done is lower the cognitive load," says Adam Finkelstein, academic associate and educational developer for teaching and learning services at McGill University in Montreal. "The lecture hall gives you the suggestion of a behavior for students to quietly sit there and take notes--or not even take notes, but to sit there very passively. By shaking this up with an active learning classroom, you come into a room with round tables, and the suggestion is to talk and work in groups."

Research has shown students learn more effectively in active learning settings. The largest study (http://UBmag.me/active-learning) of this pedagogical approach, published in 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that undergraduates in STEM classes in active learning environments averaged test scores 6 percent higher than those in lecture courses. Students in lecture classes were also 1.5 times more likely to fail than those in an interactive setting.

"The research is pretty clear that active learning is a more effective way to teach certain types of content," says Lisa Stephens, senior strategist for academic innovation for the State University of New York system. "Students tend to retain information better when they're actively engaged with exercises around that information."

Challenges of space creation

Despite proof of active learnings benefits, lecture halls in many schools remain untouched, largely because of cost and the space needed to build new facilities. Institutions must either rip out existing lecture halls or construct active learning classrooms as components of new building projects.

Inspired by the popularity of small, active classrooms at Cornell University's College of Engineering, officials decided to create a larger interactive lecture hall--a project that wound up being part of a $75 million renovation of a 60-year-old academic building. When it opens next summer, the facility will include an interactive lecture hall, seating up to 84 students, connected to two adjoining rooms, each accommodating 23 students.

Five smaller active learning rooms will have long tables for group activities or rolling Node chairs, manufactured by Steelcase, for easy transitions from one teaching mode to the next.

"There will be three very different types of teaching spaces and people are going to have to experiment to see what types of teaching works best for that professor in that class," says Kathryn Dimiduk, director of the engineering colleges James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute. "It's going to take a while to get all settled out, but it will give a lot of flexibility to be innovative in teaching. …

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