The International Forum on Active Learning Classrooms Conference, hosted by the University of Minnesota, provided ample opportunities to explore many types of learning spaces designed for active learning. I attended this conference as part of ongoing planning and support of the two team based learning (TBL) classrooms available for LSA instructors: Weiser 110/120, a new classroom located on the first floor of Weiser Hall, and CHEM A859, a smaller space in the Atrium level of the Chemistry Building. These spaces offer moveable furniture, student technology, and collaborative writing surfaces. But we hope to create a variety of information that can be utilized by instructors in all teaching spaces.
The conference took place in Bruininks Hall, University of Minnesota’s seven-year old Science Teaching and Student Services Building. Session offerings ranged from planning and space design to techniques used by researchers to gather data about the effectiveness of various aspects of a course. One of the most valuable experiences was a tour of all the active learning classrooms in Bruininks Hall. Just being in the space during the conference was informative as well, from the use of hallways as study spaces by hanging flat screens and installing writable surfaces to a range of active learning classrooms from a capacity of 25 to 80 students.
Sessions at this conference ranged from focusing on the mechanics of planning and implementing an in-class learning activity to techniques being used by researchers to gather data about the efficacy of various aspects of a course to reviews of spaces in use at various peer institutions. The research examines the impact teaching in active learning spaces has on grading and assessment and the importance of ensuring students come to class. We learned about techniques that impact student success such as describing the course format in the syllabus and devoting time on the first day to provide students with background information. One of my favorite sessions focused on the process of creating effective in-class learning activities from a tactical perspective and gave detailed examinations of the structure of a variety of examples. Another session oriented toward instructional design provided helpful information about structuring the course redesign process in a flexible and streamlined way that involves analyzing all the key components of the course. These components include the student learning outcomes, the assessment and grading strategy, and course instruction and learning activities.
Most of all, it was also a treat to interact with both veteran and newer instructors and support staff involved in these types of spaces, comparing notes on solutions and challenges. I look forward to ways to use all the best practices, tips, and techniques during the coming semesters!