In Canada, McGill University began doing retrofits with active learning in mind starting in 2006. It created a fully active classroom using
SCALE-UP ideas in 2009. In 2012, Queen’s started renovating rooms in
this style and now has four. The University of Windsor’s Centre for Engineering Innovation opened in 2013 and features numerous active-learning classrooms. University of Lethbridge retrofitted two rooms and completely revamped another in 2014 to follow active-learning principles.
McMaster University launched an active classroom in early 2016 and
its newly opened L.R. Wilson Hall, a social studies building, has several.
Likewise, Université Laval has a number of active learning classrooms
and recently opened a new tech-rich teaching space in the faculty of administration that includes a 20-foot-long screen called a Vu Wall.
Across the country, there are many more. The ne plus ultra: at York University’s new Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, opened this
past April, there are no lecture halls – all classrooms are an active learning
lab. Adding to these numbers soon will be several spaces in buildings such
as Laurier’s Lazaridis Hall, the new home for its business school now
under construction, and a proposed science building at U of Lethbridge.
Active learning environments continue to be backed by convincing research. A 2014 review of 225 previous studies of students in STEM disciplines,
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found average
exam scores went up by six percent for students in active learning classes
while those who learned by lecture alone were 1. 5 times more likely to fail.
The benefits seem greater for women and minorities – a big deal for
STEM disciplines, where they’re often underrepresented. A 2006 study
of Harvard students found interactive techniques erased the gender dif-
ference in an introductory calculus courses for non-majors by the end of
the semester. Meanwhile, Dr. Beichner’s research has found that women
and African Americans fail 12 times more often in a traditional classroom
than in a SCALE-UP one.
“You can argue that the lecture hall, with its tiered seating and stand-and-deliver approach, favours students of privilege,” says Derek Bruff, director of the Centre for Teaching at Vanderbilt University in Nashville,
who also blogs on teaching, technology and classrooms. In a lecture, he
says, students don’t get to question technical or academic lingo they don’t
understand, while in a collaborative space the disadvantaged student has
a chance to overcome self-doubts. Says Dr. Bruff: “If you spend some time
in class talking to each other, a student with an outside status can realize
‘the reason I can’t solve this problem is not because I’m stupid, it’s because
it’s a hard problem.’”
last spring at the University of Calgary, Michael Ullyot, an associate
professor of English, took 55 students into one of the flexible learning
spaces at the new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning to read
Shakespeare and watch films over seven weeks. The 40,000-square-foot
building is the new home of the institute, whose mandate is to study and
Naturally, the students’ tables are on wheels – as are their chairs – and
are equipped with touchscreens that can project to wall screens. Dr. Ullyot would start his classes with a SharePoint presentation, the first slide
of which poses a question of the day that everyone answers together at
end of class, and would intersperse that with viewings of, say, scenes from
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. Then, students would spend 20
Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, York University. The Bergeron Centre for
Engineering Excellence building, which houses the Lassonde School of Engineering, has created
quite a buzz for its architecture and flexible learning spaces.