Assistant Mathematics Professor Preston Kiekel works with students in the new ALC.
A visitor walking into Centralia College’s new Active Learning Classroom (ALC) will notice right away that something is different. The room buzzes with conversation as students work together in small groups, discussing last night’s online lecture or the material from yesterday’s assigned reading. Plugging their laptops into ports at the center of each table, they begin working on group projects. The busy rattle of keyboards can be heard amidst their animated conversations. After a while, colorful images and data are projected onto the large 42-inch monitors next to each group’s table. Students turn to the screens, pointing, commenting, sharing. Meanwhile, the professor walks around the room and checks in with each group—asking and answering questions. Unlike traditional classrooms where students sit in rows passively listening to a lecture, the ALC hums with activity.
Designed as a student-centered classroom, the layout of the new ALC capitalizes on social learning. Individual desks are replaced with group conference tables, each with large 42-inch monitors and several ports for students to plug in their own laptops. While this technology is not required for active learning, the setup allows students to share information with each other interactively.
“I found that being able to present the work on a screen in front of my own little group was helpful because we could talk about it, whereas with the other room, when it was displayed in front of the whole class, we couldn’t discuss it together,” described one student.
While the ALC is relatively new on campus, active learning itself is a recognized strategy for student engagement. Students participate in the process as they discuss material, share resources, problem solve and work on projects together.
In the Active Learning Classroom, professors spend most of the class time walking around answering questions, interacting with students, and facilitating projects.
Because students are now taking an active part in the process, it forces them to be mature in their approach to learning. For students, this might mean reading assigned chapters or watching online lectures in advance, freeing up class time for discussion, reflection, and collaborative projects. “If they come unprepared, there’s a lot more pressure from their group,” said Jeff McQuarrie, communications instructor.
Dave Clary, a Centralia police officer and student in the Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Management program, said, “You can talk about how to do something all you want, but actually rolling up your sleeves and doing it is what makes it stick.”
Classmate Hailey Norby, agrees, “The (ALC) teaches us how to collaborate, and it’s a better test of what we’ve learned than a lecture class.”
Another benefit of the ALC is better teacher-student interaction. Expanding on this idea, professors Atara MacNamara and Preston Kiekel (psychology and math, respectively) teamed up to teach the introduction to statistics class winter quarter. With two teachers in the ALC, they are finding more time to meet with students individually. They have also noticed students are more willing to ask questions in small groups versus large groups. “We are exploring the boundaries of the ALC and how to use it best. We don’t yet know the limits.”
The Active Learning Classroom, located in the Walton Science Center, “activated” in January. With its successful launch, instructors from every department are now eager to use the classroom. In addition, space for up to four more Active Learning Classrooms is planned in the new TransAlta Commons building, which is expected to be completed in mid-2017.