Podcast #80

The evidence is clear that when students work actively in the classroom, they learn more. It’s also true that most of the classrooms we teach in were designed for a professor to lecture to a group of students that sit passively and take notes. What do classrooms designed for active learning look like? Do students learn more when we teach in active learning classrooms? And what other impacts might teaching in active learning classrooms have on students and instructors? Robert Talbert, a math professor and education researcher at Grand Valley State University, recently took a deep dive into the literature on these questions, and in this episode he shares what he’s learned.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:38 Welcoming Robert Talbert and introducing his paper with Anat Mor-Avi: “A Space for Learning: A Review of Research on Active Learning Spaces,” commissioned by Steelcase.

5:00 Defining active learning: The students need to do more than pay attention and take good notes. The importance of the instructor in active learning. The instructor in an Active Learning Classroom (ALC) may be quiet but may take 5,000 steps in 50 minutes. Active Learning can include lectures, they’re just not long and play a different role. “The professor’s just there to resolve the chord.”

11:28 What does a classroom effectively customized for Active Learning look like? Good ALC design facilitates collaboration and physical movement. Supporting the flow of information around a classroom: whiteboards vs. screens. A polycentric space: there is no ‘front of the room.’ A good ALC gives instructors and students many ways to do the same thing.

18:21 The challenges of researching the literature on active learning classrooms: different names for the same thing, similar names for different things. ALC’s have an impact on the institutions themselves. Professional development and what triggers it. Working with Steelcase: no pressure to shade the results. Steelcase likes ALC’s to have glass walls–and indeed, this seems to have some tangible benefit. Anecdata.

27:02 Analog tools as ‘reducing the amount of friction beween a student and her own thoughts.’ On the virtue of portable whiteboards. The on/off switch is the first thing to go. The need for low ignition costs for capturing ideas.

32:35 Spaces designed for active learning (AL) foster AL strategies even even when instructors are told NOT to do AL. Students make choices in all learning spaces.

37:24 Equity issues and the ‘bowling alley’ classroom space. Sharing teaching resources with learners to downplay the centrality of a single screen. The big research challenge: comparing the same pedagogy in two different spaces. What’s the active ingredient–the AL or the ALC?

42:30 Architectural features making certain AL behaviors easier, and those behaviors support things we know support learning: like engagement, motivation, etc. But what’s left on the table by not having the best room. How much are instructors missing out on when they do AL in a sub-optimal room? ALC’s make instructors more excited about AL practies. But then AL research becomes less convincing than AL anecdotes.

48:12 Initiative fatigue: the flipped classroom, writing across the curriculum, time-on-task, and the zone of proximal development. But can you get access to the room?!

52:26 Two of Robert’s teaching mistakes: one involving a whiteboard.

56:13 How many students can you fit into an ALC? An experiment in getting more students in a smaller space by rotating its use and making the rest of the work online. Applying self-determination theory to learning: supporting competency, connectedness, and autonomy.

1:00:18 At UBC, they have a space optimized for doing active learning with 180 students. It’s called the Hennings 200 Active Learning Theatre. Thanks and sign-off.