Active learning classes garner attention

The U’s new classrooms attract visitors from across the globe.
October 13, 2011

From Illinois to New Zealand, visitors are traveling to campus this week to see how the University of Minnesota uses interactive technology in its classrooms to achieve higher test scores.

Active learning classrooms, with round tables and constant discussion via technology, have been on campus since 2007 when two pilot classroom models were built.  These models were used to create the interactive classrooms in the Science Teaching and Student Services building.

The classrooms consist of a central instructor’s station surrounded by round tables which hold nine students, each with three microphones and three laptop attachment points.  There are also a number of flat screen televisions for students to display work on.

John Knowles, an instructional technology coordinator at the Office of Classroom Management said the pilot classrooms were used to decide what worked and what didn’t.  He said each instructor will use the space differently, and there are restrictions on the type of classes that can be taught in the active learning environment.

There are 10 active learning classrooms in STSS, in addition to the two pilot classrooms in the Biological Sciences building and Keller Hall.

Susan Wick, professor of plant biology, said people are interested in seeing the facilities, in part because they are unfamiliar with a cooperative learning environment.

“They cannot figure out for the life of them how the team-based classrooms work,” she said. 

Operating a classroom with the instructor in the center of the room is untraditional, so visitors have questions about how the class is run, Wick said. They also want to see how the students participate in the interactive classes.

Proof in the grades

Research has consistently proven that students in the ALCs have earned higher grades than students learning the same content in traditional classrooms, said JD Walker, manager at the Office of Information Technology.

Similarly, research has found that it is not the classroom itself, but the interaction that makes the difference. 

When visitors come to the University to see the classrooms, Christopher Brooks, research fellow at the Office of Information Technology, said he talks to them about their research.  He said he explains how “the spaces have an independent and significant positive result on students as proven by test scores.”

While Wick and Walker both said visitors want to know how the classrooms are constructed and how much it costs to create one, they are most interested in seeing the classroom in use.

Visitors range from instructors and prospective students to architects and designers from other countries, the U.S. and even within the Twin Cities.

Wick said there have been people from Denmark, Quebec and several regions across the U.S.

“I think Minnesota is a real leader in this whole new learning space idea,” Walker said.

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