Queen's University

Ellis Hall

Active Learning Classrooms

Active Learning Classrooms

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Research

One of the primary goals of redesigning classroom space in Ellis Hall is to evaluate how teaching spaces can facilitate changes in approaches to teaching and student learning. Over the course of the project instructors and students that use the space will be asked to reflect on the use of the space and its functionality. Understanding how the design of these spaces and approaches to teaching affect the student experience and student learning will help inform decisions about future spaces here at Queen's.

The Centre for Teaching and Learning will, during the first year of the project, work with instructors to determine an approach to evaluate the space and its influence on their approach to teaching and students learning. These may include focus groups, testimonials, teaching observations, questionnaires and surveys of students.

Report on Active Learning Classrooms in Ellis Hall - September 2013 - July 2014

Conference Abstracts

CANHEIT 2014, University of Prince Edward Island, June 1 – 3, 2014
Developing and Supporting Active and Collaborative Learning Spaces
Andy Leger and Don Harmsen

There is large and growing body of evidence that shows active learning can have a positive impact upon students learning outcomes such as increased content knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, and positive attitudes towards learning in comparison to traditional lecture-based delivery (Anderson et al, 2005); increased enthusiasm for learning in both students and instructors (Thaman et al. 2013); and the development of graduate capabilities such as critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, communication and interpersonal skills (Kember & Leung 2005).  There is also literature which suggests that teaching spaces can have large impact on the ability to incorporate active learning teaching strategies (Chism and Bickford 2002; Oblinger 2006; Walker et al. 2011).  In the winter of 2014 three recently renovated classrooms at Queen’s University designed for active and collaborative learning were used for the first time. One of the primary goals of redesigning classroom space was to evaluate how teaching spaces can facilitate changes in approaches to teaching and transform student learning experiences. The purpose of this session is to learn about the design considerations, configurations and technology available in each of the three new active learning classrooms and to hear about the support and assessment model that has been implemented.

This session will begin with an overview of the three classrooms by an Educational Developer responsible for the support and assessment of the new active learning classrooms. This will be followed by a description of the chosen technology and functionality for each of the three rooms. Finally a summary will be given of how we are collaboratively supporting the rooms, issues we have experienced, and how the rooms have been received so far by students and professors.  There will be an opportunity for session participants to hear about and ask questions regarding the design aspects of three new active learning classrooms, consider the configuration and the technology available in each room, and discuss the opportunities, advantages and challenges of the teaching strategies that were used in these spaces.

OUCC 2014, University of Windsor, April 27 – 29, 2014
Active Learning Classrooms @ Queen's
Don Harmsen and Dave Smith

In January 2014, Queen's launched 3 new active learning classrooms.  This presentation will include an overview of the rooms, why they were built, and reasons for technology decisions.  A summary will be given of how the rooms have been received so far by students and professors, how we are supporting the rooms, and issues we have experienced.  The focus will be on the IT side of things, rather than pedagogical value.

Lead Presenter: Don Harmsen
Lead Presenter Department: Queen's University / Information Technology Services
Lead Presenter Title: Educational Technology Analyst

Other Presenters:
Dave Smith, Production Director, Information Technology Services

Presenter(s) Biography:
Both Dave and Don have been involved in the classroom design since the beginning of the project in 2012. Both were either on-site or on-call to support the classrooms during the launch of the classrooms this January.pedagogical value.

http://webapps.uwindsor.ca/conferences/oucc/call-for-papers/program-description.php?category=concurrent&id=30

STLHE 2014, Queen’s University, June 17 – 20, 2014
Transforming Classroom Spaces for Active and Collaborative Learning
Andy Leger

There is large and growing body of evidence that shows active learning can have a positive impact upon students learning outcomes such as increased content knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, and positive attitudes towards learning in comparison to traditional lecture-based delivery (Anderson et al, 2005); increased enthusiasm for learning in both students and instructors (Thaman et al. 2013); and the development of graduate capabilities such as critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, communication and interpersonal skills (Kember & Leung 2005).  There is also literature which suggests that teaching spaces can have large impact on the ability to incorporate active learning teaching strategies (Chism and Bickford 2002; Oblinger 2006; Walker et al. 2011).  In the winter of 2014 three recently renovated classrooms at Queen’s University designed for active and collaborative learning were used for the first time. One of the primary goals of redesigning classroom space was to evaluate how teaching spaces can facilitate changes in approaches to teaching and transform student learning experiences. The purpose of this panel is to learn about the design considerations, configurations and technology available in each of the three new active learning classrooms and to hear from faculty members who have chosen to teach in them.

This session will begin with an overview of the three classrooms by the Moderator and Educational Developer responsible for the support and assessment of the new active learning classrooms. Then each of the panelists will in turn discuss how the classroom design and features influenced their approach to teaching and comment on the effect it had on their students’ experience. The panelists chosen for this session each used one of the new classrooms and include experienced faculty members teaching a familiar course normally taught in traditional classrooms, an experienced faculty member teaching a newly designed course, and a new instructor teaching for the first time. Questions to each of the panelists will include:  What influence did the space have on how your course was designed and taught? Can you give an example of what worked particularly well? What aspects of the space do you believe contributed the most to enhancing student experience and student learning? What surprised you about the space and how it influenced your class? What are some of the teaching and learning strategies that you used that you could not in other traditional classrooms? What was the reaction of your students to the space and the strategies that you used? What do you wish you had known before teaching in the active learning classrooms? What advice would you give other instructors teaching in these rooms for the first time? If you were to build another classroom for active learning and to help you transform your course what would it look like?

This panel will allow participants to hear about and ask questions regarding the design aspects of three new active learning classrooms, consider the configuration and the technology available in each room, and discuss the opportunities, advantages and challenges of the teaching strategies that were used in these spaces.

STLHE 2014, Queen’s University, June 17 – 20, 2014
Dynamic Literature!
Annie Riel and Catherine Dhavernas

In the field of literary studies, students are traditionally evaluated through oral presentations, essays and exams. Although all three forms of evaluation have demonstrated their effectiveness in terms of measuring a student’s capacity for analysis and mastering concepts, our objective here was to integrate new and alternative forms of evaluation that are specifically adapted to the study of literature and which offer a more participative approach to learning. In this case we decided to place students in a simulated teaching situation, an evaluation strategy which was inspired by the Three minute thesis contest at Queen’s University, in which the goal is for students to present the most important elements of their thesis in three minutes. This evaluation strategy was introduced into two different courses offered to students in 3rd and 4th year in the Department of French studies in the Winter semester of 2014, namely FREN 325/ 425 Tendances avant-gardistes et post-modernes au XXe siècle et à l’ère actuelle and FREN 327/427 Le cinéma aujourd’hui: études thématiques.

A key factor worth noting is that the two courses took place in different locations: FREN 325/425 was taught in a traditional classroom, whereas FREN 327/427 was alternatively held, twice a week, in two different active learning classrooms – one of them equipped with round tables and an interactive display, and the other with whiteboards covering three of the room’s four walls, which proved to be an interesting basis for the comparison of how the configuration of a classroom impacts the learning and teaching strategies we chose to adopt.

If, on the one hand, the more traditional evaluation tools offered by oral presentations and essays are designed to call up analytical and explanatory skills, the simulated situation scenarios that we proposed allowed us to evaluate students’ capacity to synthesize information through active learning. In our presentation, we sought to detail the results of the new approach as it was experienced in the two above-mentioned courses. As such, we shared our thoughts on the process of implementing the approach and our assessment of its effectiveness during and after having taught the courses. We discussed its impact on our teaching practices as well as its potential to transform students into teachers ; teachers into students ; teachers into mentors who teach students how to be leaders ; and passive students into active learners.

La littérature active!
Dans le domaine des études littéraires, les situations d’évaluation sont généralement ancrées dans une tradition dont les outils se résument la plupart du temps à l’exposé oral, la dissertation et l’examen sur table. Bien que ces trois situations d’évaluation aient démontré leur efficacité à mesurer la maitrise des concepts à l’étude et la capacité d’analyse de l’étudiant, nous souhaitions intégrer de nouvelles situations d’évaluation autrement adaptées à notre objet d’étude et rattachées à une approche davantage participative. Nous avons décidé de tenter l’expérience d’une mise en situation, à savoir une stratégie d’évaluation inspirée du concours « Votre soutenance en 180 secondes », dont le principe consiste à présenter les éléments les plus importants de sa thèse en trois minutes. Cette stratégie a été introduite dans deux cours différents offerts aux étudiants de troisième et quatrième année au premier cycle en études françaises au semestre d’hiver 2014, soit Fren 325/425 Tendances avant-gardistes et post-modernes au XXe siècle et à l'ère actuelle, ainsi que Fren 327/427 Le cinéma aujourd’hui: études thématiques.

Du point de vue de l’espace, il est important de mentionner que ces deux cours se tenaient dans des classes différentes: FREN 325/425 se déroulait dans une classe traditionnelle, alors que FREN 327/427 avait lieu deux fois par semaine, en alternance, dans deux classes d’apprentissage actif — la première étant équipée de tables rondes et d’une console interactive; la seconde étant munie de tableaux blancs sur 3 des 4 murs. Le fait d’enseigner dans de ces trois classes nous a permis de constater l’impact de la configuration de l’espace sur les stratégies d’enseignement que nous avions choisi d’adopter.

Si l’exposé traditionnel et la dissertation mobilisent principalement des compétences analytiques et explicatives, la mise en situation que nous avons introduite ici nous a permis d’évaluer des compétences de synthèse dans un contexte d’apprentissage actif. Cette communication proposait ainsi de rendre compte de l’expérience de cette nouvelle approche dans les deux cours en question et de partager nos réflexions avant, pendant et après l’enseignement, de même que son impact sur notre pratique d’enseignement en les rattachant entre autres plus spécifiquement aux questions portant sur la transformation d’élèves en professeurs et de professeurs en élèves ; de professeurs en mentors qui enseignent comment être leader et d’étudiants passifs en étudiants actifs.

Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education Conferences (CSSHE) Congress 2015, Ottawa, ON. May 30-June 2.
Overlooked and Underestimated: The Impact of Physical and Mental Well-being in Learning in Higher Education Classrooms.
Victoria Chen, Annie Riel, & Andy Leger
Purpose. This study examines the effect of the architecture layout of a classroom on teaching assistants’ (TAs) movement and interactions with students in the classroom, from the researchers’ perspectives, the TAs’ perspectives, and the students’ perspectives.

Perspectives. In recent years, universities and colleges across North America have sought to change the ambiance of classrooms by implementing innovative reconfigured layouts and furniture aimed at improving the learning experience for students called Active Learning Classrooms (ALC) (Baepler, et al., 2014). Studies have shown that compared to the traditional lecture hall, students’ satisfaction with learning improved, students’ attendance in class increased, and instructors felt they were able to engage and interact with students in ways that were not possible in the traditional classroom layout (Brooks, 2011; Cotner, et al., 2013). One common aspect with most of these studies is that the instructors are experienced teachers and had some experience in taking on the facilitator role in teaching (Hmelo-Silver & Barrows, 2006). However it remains unclear how novice instructors such as first time Teaching Assistants would react and use these new learning spaces. Furthermore, in previous studies, the comparison of the traditional classroom is conducted retrospectively and the content of the lesson/course could be a factor contributing to instructors’ moving and interacting more with students in one classroom than another. In the current study, Teaching Assistants taught the same session twice on the same day in two different rooms, therefore eliminating the confound of course content.

Methods. Four Teaching Assistants (TAs) from one course were chosen to take part in the study. The TAs taught the same session twice in one day with two different groups of students in different classrooms (one in a traditional classroom and another in an Active Learning Classroom), therefore controlling for content differences. Two of these TAs taught in Traditional classrooms first and Active Learning Classroom right after, while the other two TAs taught in the reversed order, thereby controlling for order effects. The TAs were interviewed informally after each session, and more formally at the end of the year. Students from the sessions will be given a survey about their interactions with their TA and be invited to a focus group.

Data source. Using videotaped sessions the relationship between the architectural layout of the classroom and TAs’ movements is examined. Videos from the two rooms were played side by side and difference in movement was striking. Through semi-structured interviews with the TAs, their pedagogical beliefs and reflection on their movement in the two classrooms is explored. Students’ perspectives on their learning in relation to their TAs’ interaction with them will be captured through surveys and focus groups at the end of the year.

Conclusions. From video-analyses, there was a clear difference in how the TAs moved in the classroom. In the Active Learning Classroom, TAs walked around to groups more frequently and quickly, whereas in the traditional classroom, TAs tended to stay at the front of the room and movement to the students was less frequent and took longer periods of time. Based on the interviews, TAs views on pedagogy was equally important in how he/she interrupted the use of the classroom facilities. TAs who embodied the facilitator role wanted to join groups and interact with students preferred the Active Learning Classroom because of its flexibility and ease of moving and joining students in groups. While TAs who embodied the lecturer role did not like the Active Learning Classroom, because they found it cluttered and confusing with no focal point in the room. The results from the students’ perspectives will be analyzed following the survey that will be given at the end of the course and subsequent focus groups.

Educational importance of the study. There are two take away messages: 1) the architectural layout of the classroom can have a significant impact on how instructors move and interact with students, but more importantly 2) how instructors’ pedagogical views affect their interpretation of the usage of the space. As instructors, movement is often forgotten as an essential part of the teaching and learning experience. This study highlights the importance of being self-aware of your movements in the classroom.

Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education Conferences (CSSHE) Congress 2015, Ottawa, ON. May 30-June 2.
Standing to Lecture, Moving to Teach
Victoria Chen, Andy Leger, & Annie Riel
Purpose. In this paper, findings from a study on students’ perspectives and experiences using Active Learning Classrooms are discussed with the primary focus on physical and mental well-being.

Perspective. Well-being is a major aspect of learning (Van Petegem, et al., 2008), however, its importance is largely underestimated in higher education (Diener, 2009). It is often addressed by asking a few multiple choice questions on student engagement surveys, and is subsequently treated as an unimportant element in learning. Without directly attending to physical and mental well-being as a primary component of learning, learning can be limited unnecessarily (Jenkins & Mostafa, 2013). In fact, most university students attend class in lecture halls with unpleasant learning conditions (Beichner, 2014), such as having crammed seats with tiny tables, poor lighting, no personal space, constrained movement, and forced to face a single direction.  

Although some instructors and students may actually prefer this format of learning, another problem arises when teaching and learning practices are not suitable for the layout and space, for instance in the case of active teaching and learning strategies (Cotner, et al., 2013). When group work, presentations, and class discussions are required, there is an additional layer of discomfort to reconfigure into the groups and inability to do the activities without appropriate space or technology. Furthermore it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) for the instructor to attend to all the small groups in a reasonable time (Brooks, 2011). The inflexible, stress-inducing, and unwelcoming space, sends a clear message to students that individually they are not important, they are not the focus of learning, and learning is a passive activity.      

For these reasons, universities and colleges across North America have sought to change the ambiance of classrooms by implementing innovative reconfigured layouts and furniture aimed at improving the learning experience for students called Active Learning Classrooms (ALC) (Baepler, et al., 2014). Interestingly, studies on the these classrooms have primarily focused on engagement using engagement surveys, which as stated before barely scratch the surface on measuring well-being, especially physical well-being. Since physical and mental well-being are at the forefront of the ALC design, it needs to be captured and studied in-depth from the students’ perspectives and not just from the instructors.      

Methods. Using open-ended surveys, focus groups, informal observations, and conversations with students over the term, qualitative data was gathered and analyzed to pinpoint what students felt was most important about these rooms and what aspects they thought were an improvement over traditional lecture halls.

Data source. This study focuses on twenty-five courses that took place in three newly implemented Active Learning Classrooms, ranging from 2nd to 4th year courses and covering a range of disciplines (e.g., Engineering, French Studies, Geography, etc.). The rooms held various capacities and had distinct features that were meant to facilitate faculty and students’ needs in implementing active teaching strategies and attaining learning outcomes. In all three rooms there was natural lighting, open-concept layout, invigorating coloured walls, personal space, freedom of movement, access to the internet, and ability to share information with other students in the class in an instant.

Conclusions. Overwhelmingly, students reported elements of well-being as the most important part of their experience in these classrooms and in general classrooms. Well-being was defined as statements focusing on comfort and feelings, for example, “nice”, “clean”, “inviting”, “ease of movement”, “freedom of learning”, “energizing”, and “wanting to be in the space more”. Even when students talked about teaching approaches, participation, and communication, the conversation was stemmed from the well-being, demonstrating well-being is at the core and foundation of learning.      

Educational importance of the study. With increasing sizes of university classrooms, efficiency in delivering information has taken precedence over student well-being. The results from this study are a reminder of the importance in addressing physical and mental well-being in the classroom. Not only was well-being the most important part of the students’ experience, but it is also at the core of students’ learning experience rooting all other aspects of learning. This session will allow participants to hear and ask questions about what features of the room students attributed increased well-being, and how they can create a more positive learning environment in their classrooms.

International Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies Conference: The Task of the Curriculum Theorist in the 21st Century, Ottawa, ON. May 26-29, 2015
From Isolation to Integration: A Dewey Classroom 2.0.
Victoria Chen
Higher education has been widely criticized as being out-dated, out of sync, and isolated from conservations and problems in the present world, leaving graduates unprepared, lack communication skills, and ultimately unemployed (Hart Research Associates , 2013; White, 2013). Although the criticism is not new (Vedder, Denhart, & Robe, 2013), the increased implementation of “Active Learning Classrooms” across North America (Baepler, & Walker, 2014) may be triggering a welcomed revitalization of John Dewey’s concept of integrating society and schools.  This essay will begin by describing my educational experiences in moving from environments in which academia was taught in isolation from the present society and situated in sterile traditional lecture halls to dynamic environments where education became a natural connection and integration with the real world. These environments are called “Active Learning Classrooms” (ALCs), reconfigured classroom layouts that embrace conversation and bridge the classroom with the rest of the world instantly.

The more I studied these rooms, the more I thought whether these rooms really were as “innovative” as they have been promoted. Was this concept of changing the classroom truly new? How could no one have ever thought of this before the 2000s? As I delved into my PhD program of Curriculum Studies, I found photos of classrooms from Chicago in the 1890s. I was instantly drawn in by the parallels between these classrooms and the ALCs. Time travel does exist! As I read the description below these black and white photos they belonged to none other than the famous Dewey Laboratory School. 

Using the Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts by Seixas, et al. (2013) as a framework, I argue that these ALCs can be seen as the new version of Dewey’s elementary classrooms, a “Dewey Classroom 2.0”, and parallels in their function and future can be drawn between the two environments. Participants will be invited to bring their thoughts about ALCs from their institutions or other “innovative” educational tools they have encountered, and together discuss solutions on how to bring longevity to the use of these tools rather than letting them become relics or “fads and frills” of a once great educational plan.

Rosa Bruno-Jofré Symposium in Education (RBJSE) 2015, Queen’s University, Feb. 28-29, 2015.
Building lasting partnerships through spatial configurations: A case study comparing group relationships in an Active Learning Classroom and a traditional lecture hall.
Victoria Chen, Andy Leger, & Annie Riel
Purpose. To examine whether there is a difference in quality of partnerships developed in Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs) and traditional lecture halls.

Perspective. Over the first year of implementing the ALCs on Queen’s main campus, instructors and students overwhelmingly reported positive experiences in these rooms (Leger, et al., 2014). One of these reported outcomes was that partnerships and friendships had developed in these courses that did not occur in other classrooms. This led to a study examining a first year business course in which development of long term partnerships is emphasized in the program. One section of the course took place in an ALC and the other in a traditional classroom.

Methods. A modified Team Climate Inventory by Anderson & West (1998), a widely used inventory measuring long term business partners (Cronbach’s Alpha = .90), was given to students at the end of the term. The inventory identifies four themes that attribute to successful team climate: Vision, Participation and Safety, Task Orientation, and Support for Innovation.

Results. Initial analysis showed the two rooms differed significantly on the inventory, t(8) = 2.55, p = .03, h2 = .45, with the students in the ALC reporting more successful partnerships (M = 78.83, SD = 5.42) than those in the traditional room (M = 64.50, SD = 12.37). Students also provided written feedback about their experience in the two rooms which suggest a striking difference in the two learning environments. Further discussion of the results will be included in the presentation.

Educational importance of the study. Changing the spatial configuration of tables in a room is a simple solution to altering the dynamics in a class yet can be easily overlooked. As shown in this study, this change can have an enormous impact on the quality of partnerships fostered.