of course, newly designed or revamped classrooms do have their issues,
one being space. “Once you get away from that old, industrial design model and how many people you can churn through a room, things change,”
says Adam Finkelstein, an academic associate in McGill’s Teaching and
Learning Services. “When we renovate our old, lousy lecture halls, they
get smaller.” To illustrate, when one of the U of Lethbridge classrooms got
an active learning revamp, it went from 60 seats to 42.
These rooms cost more as well. Laurier’s green room, with all its fancy
technology, rang in at $200,000. Michael Daly, quality assurance coordi-
nator at the university’s Centre for Teaching Innovation and Excellence,
says he can purchase a standard chair for $120, but one on wheels runs
close to $150. It may not sound like much, but “it does add up.”
Meanwhile, as active learning spaces get built in greater numbers, not
everyone wants to teach – or learn – in these spaces. “My colleagues don’t
like it. They don’t feel in control,” says Laurier’s Dr. Brockett. Teaching
student-centred classes requires more prep, creative ideas, trial and error,
and often explorations of new technology. While many active learning
spaces on Canadian campuses have wait-lists, Dr. Brockett says Laurier’s
are not fully booked.
And, finally, there are those who say an uber-active classroom space
can take you only so far. “It’s like a Formula 1 car,” says Dr. Finkelstein of
McGill. “The driver is 98 percent of it – it doesn’t really matter how good
the car is.” On the other hand, he says, “a really good learning space in the
hands of a great instructor can go light years beyond.”
See also the Career Advice column in this month’s issue, “Lessons on teaching in an
active learning classroom,” on page 68.
minutes or so researching aspects of the scene or text, chatting with their
group and posting thoughts to Twitter, a class Google doc and the class
blog. Then they’d come together as a class again, with Dr. Ullyot strolling
amongst the tables, doing more lecturing, running a class discussion or
listening to students present.
He’s taught courses in a similar way in regular classrooms using work-
arounds to deal with obstacles such stationary chairs and more rudimen-
tary technology. “You can do this in just about any classroom, you just
need enough imagination,” he says, adding one stipulation: “If I had a
banked lecture hall, this would not work.”
Indeed, getting this kind of interactive, student-centric teaching into
large lecture spaces is a challenge. At U of Windsor’s 350-seat hybrid class-
room in the Centre for Engineering Innovation, students sit at rectangu-
lar tables stationed perpendicular to the front of the room on three tiers.
Jacqueline Stagner, undergraduate programs coordinator in the faculty of
engineering, teaches several first-year courses in the room by lecturing for
a bit, then allowing groups to talk, work together or engage with the entire
class (there are microphones at each table). She and a team of graduate
assistants stroll the room, offering support during the tutorial-style com-
ponents of the class. When one group has a key question, she switches on
her own microphone and addresses everyone with the answer.
“It can get very noisy, even during the lecture,” Dr. Stagner admits.
This flexible space gets rid of the information gaps that can happen between lecture and tutorial, she says. And everyone is grateful for the short
spurts of lectures – the professor included. “I’ve been teaching in a more
traditional-type amphitheatre hall lately and I am struggling with it,” says
Dr. Stagner. “I’ve gotten used to the layout of the new classroom.”
Ellis Hall active learning classroom, Queen’s University. The Ellis Hall active learning classrooms encourage collaborative learning and innovation in teaching.