Professors say new interactive classrooms are a ‘step up’

Students are writing on the walls and desks in classrooms at Cal State Long Beach, and some professors say they’re glad to see it.

“This is the third semester I have used [Academic Services building Room] 244, and if I had to, I would camp out the day before rooms are assigned with a chair and a cooler like a fan waiting to get tickets for the last ‘Harry Potter’ movie,” said Galen Pickett, a professor in the physics and astronomy department.

Classrooms such as AS building Room 244 have been modified into active learning classrooms, rooms that feature interactive screens, moveable furniture and walls painted with white board paint.

CSULB currently has four active learning classrooms: two in the College of Business Administration and two in the AS building, according to Leslie Kennedy, director of Instructional Technology Support Services.

History department chair Nancy Quam-Wickham said the interactive classrooms are a step up from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) or online classes, which use video lectures, interactive assignments, online forums and discussion groups. She said that compared to active learning classrooms, MOOC is a more passive way of learning.

The active learning classrooms provide a more hands-on approach to teaching and learning by providing group tables, each with their own computer, along with write-on walls and tables. Instructors are positioned at the center of the room, where they are able to control each table’s 70-inch monitor and a projector screen, according to Kennedy.

“The very geometry of the room emphasizes that student-to-student interaction is the most important thing that goes on in class time,” Pickett said. “After class, the walls are covered from about six feet down to two feet from the floor with diagrams and calculations. [And] that’s just the residue of the debates that happen.”

Kennedy said the classrooms were modeled after active learning classrooms at MIT, University of Minnesota, North Carolina State and Clemson University.

Instructors were also provided models for teaching in the new classroom environment, as well as voluntary two-day workshops designed to help them in transitioning to active learning classroom environments.

“I love it; I never want to go back,” Quam-Wickham said. “Teaching in the new environment isn’t hard, and I’m already well-adapted to new technology.”

She said that these classrooms allow students to work with others and build the skills needed in the field, something normal classrooms cannot provide.

Kennedy said the goal of the active learning classrooms is to facilitate a more interactive learning experience.

“The idea is to foster students’ learning and engage them as much as possible,” Kennedy said. “The sky is the limit.

Quam-Wickham said the hardest part was coming up with goals for the course that would fit the classroom setting. For example, rather than having a typical paper due at the end of the course, she said her History 173 students must create their own websites illustrating a particular time period.

According to Quam-Wickham, there are currently six sections of History 101 courses being taught in active learning classrooms. There are also sections of math and physics being taught in such settings as well.

“I see students writing equations from the ceiling to the floor,” Kennedy said, “I had to bring in step ladders for them to use.”

Construction of more active learning classrooms on campus are now included in renovations for Liberal Arts buildings 2, 3 and 4. The renovations are expected to be finished in December 2014.

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