Seating around shared screen
Part of the common area at one University of Minnesota library

International Forum on Active Learning Classrooms (pre-conference, day 2)

Today was the second day of the Rum för lärande pre-conference to International Forum on Active Learning Classrooms. During the morning there were presentations by University of Minnesota lecturers about how they use their active learning classrooms. During the afternoon I joined the tour of the university libraries.

Active learning techniques can be used in any classroom. At the presentation on team based learning I attended at Læringsfestivalen, he said the same thing; though he differentiated between talking to other teachers and to administrative employees. To other teachers, he said, you can use these same methods for group learning in lecture halls no problem. To administrative staff (who would be able to provide funding) he said, lecture halls are awful, teaching will really improve if we get proper active learning classrooms. The view presented at the pre-conference this morning was that you have to adjust certain techniques a bit when using active learning methods in lecture halls. Specifically, reduce group size to 4-5. In the rooms in Bruininks Hall, the group tables seat nine students. This was due to the large class sizes. An advantage to groups of nine was being able to divide into sub groups (or pods) of three for a think, pair, square, share variant.

Not everything is about the technology either (however if it is there, you should use it or expect to get feedback from your students about how you should use it). The University of Minnesota presenters all say that they most important aspect of these rooms is the round tables, and a close second is the white boards. One of them pointed out that she prefers to have students use a piece of paper to answer student response questions so she can’t get a spatial sense of who needs help. That data gets lost in most digital student response systems.

Side note: to do group peer review with whiteboards, have the groups shift one table and leave their comments with a different colored whiteboard marker.

The University of Minnesota libraries are changing the way their spaces are being used. They presented a nice version of the goal with a library “to provide access to high quality (and expensive) resources to a wide range of people” (in this case in different departments and faculties). They have or are building makerspaces, a VR room, a recording studio, and more. The library is a neutral space with extended opening hours for students to try out this expensive technology as part of a class project or for their own use. I’ll admit that I’ve been skeptical to VR in an educational setting because the examples I’ve seen have been mostly gimmicks (even when they were trying to be educational). However, the VR room in the biological medicine library will have simulations for examining human and animal anatomy for their medicine and veterinary science students. They were also talking about augmented reality for overlaying an MRI scan over the actual patient. This I can see really being useful.

Since I work for the IT department, librarians and I share a lot of the same challenges about using active learning classrooms and outreach to students and staff. During a semester long course, the class gets used to the group work methodology and really experience the differences with lecture based teaching. My courses last a maximum of three hours, and most people only come to one course. This means I only get a few minutes to explain why I’m teaching the course this way. Also, groups don’t have time to really get to know each other and experience group dynamics. I definitely get participants who refuse to participate with the others at their table and work alone on their laptop the whole time. The librarians and I both would love to have our courses be integrated in curricula so that they can also have required assignments based on what we teach them. Being part of a curriculum would also make it easier to get participants to do some readings or similar before they meet with us.

More bite sized reflections from the day are on Twitter @futurelabmv

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