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A new approach to learning

A new approach to learning

If you've heard a ruckus coming from the 2200 quadrant of Haley Center, you've likely heard learning in action. Situated in 2213 Haley Center, the Engaged Active Student Learning (EASL) classroom is a “flipped” approach on teaching where students are encouraged to work collaboratively and freely in the brightly-colored space.

In the fall of 2012, Dr. Wiebke Kuhn, information technology manager for the College of Liberal Arts, and her university collaborators received permission to implement EASL.  Once approved, Kuhn found faculty to teach in the class from all over liberal arts and the College of Education. She began training sessions with faculty in order to help them utilize the technology in the class and to develop curricula compatible with the space.

“It is a fair amount of work to use the room effectively,” Kuhn said. “The concept of flipping the classroom is one which requires a lot of redesigning of curricula. In the other classes you have standard seats – this class has table pods – it’s not meant for a teacher to stand in front of the class to lecture the whole time – its’ meant for students to come prepared to class and then work in class on particular collaborative assignments.”

Dr. Emily Friedman, assistant professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts, is teaching in the space this semester and she says her experience has been extremely positive.

“Not only is it a bright and energetic space, it allows me to work one-on-one or in small groups with students in ways that feel organic rather than forced,” Friedman said. “I have also been amazed at the variety of technology students deploy in the space: some are very low-tech, while others bristle with gadgets, and there’s a great hum of energy as information and ideas are exchanged. It’s as much a love of the space and its layout as it is about the technology that’s available at our fingertips.”

The technical aspects of the class include a teaching station that controls what shows up on each of the five big-screen monitors. Each of the five different shaped tables has Clickshare technology incorporated into them which allows four devices to show up on the monitors wirelessly. There are also glass boards accessible to each group and the teacher. Kuhn says this format allows for increased collaboration and sharing of ideas.

“If you walk by that classroom when it’s in session, it is loud and busy and the walls are covered,” Kuhn said. “Students arrive early to class and are excited to begin.”

Friedman echoes Kuhn’s comments and says that her students love the space.

“In fact, they’ve often wished that the course was long so they could spend more time working in the space!” Friedman said.

The Provost’s Office is funding a second EASL classroom in the Science Center Classroom (SCC) building, ready for use in Fall 2014, and faculty are currently undergoing training for teaching in the space. According to Kuhn, the SCC EASL room will be twice the size of the Haley Center room.  She said that the more STEM centered classes have different needs in terms of what the students are doing in the classes and that they have different needs in terms of software.

Historically, Kuhn says, an engaged and active classroom format like the one in Haley Center and in development for the Science Center Classrooms has its origins in the field of science.

“The history of this kind of space concept comes out of the natural sciences at North Carolina State around 20 years ago,” Kuhn said. “This engaged approach spread into physics, biology and math very quickly because they found that not only did students learn more deeply, as in they were not just studying for the test, but women and minorities students received higher grades. Grade point averages across the board went up and they stayed up for the remainder of the student’s career because they didn’t just learn the material, they learned how to learn,” Kuhn said.

It would appear that the use of the EASL classroom in Haley Center is following suit and contributing to students’ academic success.

“One faculty member, who is teaching the same course in different sections, said their students’ grades were higher in the engaged class than those in the traditional-style classroom,” Kuhn said. “So here you have the same instructor and the same materials, but one class has bolted-down chairs and does not lend itself to collaborative work.”

More EASL classrooms are in the works on campus and will be implemented in the new classroom facility currently being discussed. While location is still being determined, the make-up of the new facility will incorporate traditional and flexible classroom spaces, and Auburn University is one of the few institutions to embrace the EASL approach.

“In terms of using this kind of space, I think we’re it,” Kuhn said. “Other universities like the University of Minnesota, Michigan State, and Iowa just opened something similar to EASL, but in the SEC, we are the leaders. We are ahead of the curve.”

To learn more about what classroom technology resources are available on campus, please visit: Auburn.edu/easl

Written by Vicky Santos, Director of External Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.



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