University of Minnesota
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Room Issues in Active Learning Classrooms

These classroom spaces, with their round tables, whiteboards, and technology, are designed to foster an interactive, student-centered learning experience; however, aspects of the rooms can pose problems for instructors new to them. What follows are common issues that instructors may experience and some suggested solutions.

The layout of the rooms themselves poses certain challenges

Ideally, in-class content delivery will be minimized, and will be accompanied by visuals projected on the displays, so that seeing the instructor is not critical. There will be times, though, when the students need to focus on the instructor. Because of their arrangement—round tables spread throughout the room—ALCs lack a central visual focus compared to more traditional classrooms, making it difficult for instructors to know where to stand for content delivery. In addition, wherever an instructor stands in an ALC, some students will be facing away from her. Instructors have overcome these problems by creating a focal point in the room such as the podium or the main screen; they also develop a cue for getting students’ attention so that they will know to turn toward this focal point when necessary.

Advancing the slides may tie the lecturer to the podium

Being unable to move around the room defeats some of the advantages of the ALC space. To solve this, consider purchasing a remote control device such as TouchPad Elite (http://www.iteleportmobile.com/touchpad). It works on both Macs and PCs and can be used with an iPhone or iPod Touch to remotely control a computer or a mouse.

The tables are large

The tables in the U of MN ALCs can accommodate nine students each. Groups this size are typically too large for effective collaborative learning, both because students across the table may have trouble seeing and hearing each other and because large groups encourage some students to sit back and “hitchhike” on the work of others. Further, some tables have a raised console that can make discussion across the table somewhat challenging.

To address these issues, consider splitting students at a table into sub-groups of three or four to work on activities. (Note that each table in the U of MN STSS building is modular and can be pulled apart to form three smaller working surfaces that can easily accommodate three or four students each; tables in other ALCs might not be modular.) Some instructors develop assignments to take advantage of the design of the tables. Such an assignment might consist of two parts: The first part of a problem-solving activity is to be completed by the smaller groups, and the second is a whole-table debrief in which each sub-group shares its findings with the entire table.

It may be difficult to locate and hear who is speaking

When students speak: Request that students always use the microphones provided on each table and begin their question or comment by indicating their table number. Some instructors ask that students stand when asking questions or contributing to the discussion.

When the instructor speaks: If you circulate throughout the room during student activities and wish to make a comment to the entire class, you will be facing away from some students, making it very difficult for them to hear you without amplification. Therefore, it is particularly important that instructors use a microphone in the Active Learning Classrooms.

For other room-specific issues—including questions about using the technology, gaining access, and accessing supplies—contact the Office of Classroom Management at http://www.classroom.umn.edu/.