Lecture halls packed with nearly 200 students who only watch as the professor flips through a plethora of slideshows are becoming a thing of the past for science, math and engineering majors. Active learning, or “flipped,” classrooms are becoming the pedagogy at colleges across the country, including UMD.
An active learning classroom blends the traditional style of teaching with more collaborative, technology-based, hands-on learning.
“The technology makes it easier, faster and better,” Jason Davis, the director for information technology at UMD, said. “It allows for [students] to better describe and show what it is they’re working on.”
In a flipped class there is minimal lecturing done by the professor. Instead, students get into small groups to work on questions and discuss together. The other portion of learning is mainly done online—outside of the classroom.
There are five different types of classrooms at UMD that are dedicated to active learning. All five learning spaces are built similarly, equipped with round tables, monitors and other forms of technology.
The format of the class depends on how the professor chooses to teach the course.
After a professor informs ITSS what they want to accomplish with their students, ITSS offers different types of technology for the professor to use. A classroom technology professional then builds the classroom for the professor.
“It’s a pretty dynamic and creative process with ITSS partnering with faculty who really have these objectives of the best possible learning outcomes,” Davis said.
Karl Oman, a classroom technology professional at UMD, helped design and build the first classroom at UMD that could support active learning and video conferencing at the same time.
“Karl is where the rubber meets the road and actually gets the technology implemented within the classrooms,” Davis said.
“I try to present hardware solutions to teaching challenges,” Oman said.
Other active learning spaces are located randomly throughout the campus.
In the Kirby Student Center, the large monitors mounted at the table booths are dedicated to active learning.
The College of Pharmacy at UMD was the first program to initiate active learning classes nearly five years ago.
“Pharmacy was a big instigator of active learning,” Davis said. “LSBE has been a big user, and SCSE has really been pushing for active learning. I think the Swenson College of Science and Engineering is probably the place where the most current energy is happening around active learning classrooms.”
The new CAMS building that is being built in the B-lot will focus strictly on active learning classes. The current chemistry building will be turned into a space for active learning classrooms as well.
Active learning classrooms are inspired by the Scale-Up (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies) model developed by North Carolina State University (NCSU).
According to NSCU, the Scale-Up model is a “highly collaborative, hands-on, computer-rich, interactive learning environment for large-enrollment courses.”
NCSU’s research on active classrooms has shown positive impacts on students’ ability to solve problems along with a better understanding of various concepts.
However, there is what is called a “digital divide” downside to active learning at colleges. This problem stems from families that come from different socio-economic backgrounds, making it difficult for some students to have access to the technology outside of the classroom.
“The idea is that over time we’ll have more common spaces for students to do this kind of stuff without having to worry,” Davis said.
Will active learning classrooms overcome traditional teaching methods?
“I see it as a big emerging trend right now,” Davis said. “And we have the space to do it.”