Using the PAIR-up Model to Evaluate Active Learning Spaces

min read
  • The PAIR-up model takes advantage of interdisciplinary partnerships, assessment, innovation, and reevaluation of current views to support learning space design.
  • Using PAIR-up, the University of Minnesota designed, constructed, and assessed two pilot Active Learning Classrooms to respond to emerging requirements of teaching and learning.
  • Results suggest that faculty and students had positive reactions to the classrooms.

Amidst the evolving IT infrastructure and new space and course design principles, higher education has elevated the conversations around the importance of how and where people learn.1 In Michael Wesch's Spring 2007 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class at Kansas State University, students trapped in a 19th century-like higher education learning environment created a video to illustrate what their walls would say if they could talk.

How we build "these classroom walls" was a crucial conversation at the recent EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative September 2008 Fall Focus Session. Attendees probed how today's emerging technologies, diverse learners, strategic campus issues, new course and space design methods, and new learning science findings have created new opportunities for the design of learning spaces. As experts led discussions throughout the two-day session, a key theme emerged:

It is critical to PAIR-up to design learning spaces.

That is, as we work on designing new learning spaces it is critical to:

  • Partner to form an interdisciplinary Pedagogy-rich design team;
  • Assess how learning is impacted in new learning spaces;
  • Integrate ideas from many disciplines to Innovatively design learning spaces; and
  • Revisit current views on emerging technologies, diverse learners, strategic campus issues, new course and space design methods, and new learning science findings.

At the University of Minnesota, two central units did exactly that. The Office of Classroom Management (OCM) and the Office of Information Technology PAIR'ed-up to assess how learning is impacted in new learning spaces.

OCM successfully integrates all general classroom-related issues into one accountable office. As the single point of contact for more than 300 classrooms and 22,000 student seats in 55 buildings, OCM is responsible for the university's course database and scheduling, as well as facilities coordination, technology, support, design/standards, coordination, planning, and operations in all central classroom learning spaces.

The synergy that routinely occurs among OCM functional units, close daily contact with teaching faculty, and the constant challenges of designing and accomplishing an average of 70 learning space projects annually have fostered a future-focused view of classrooms that in turn produced the Active Learning Classroom (ALC) pilot initiative. The pilot initiative built two new demonstration classroom spaces that allowed for flexible construction techniques and promoted active learning.

OIT serves as a catalyst for innovatively leveraging technology to advance and support extraordinary education, breakthrough research, and dynamic public engagement. OIT manages a diverse range of learning spaces, including learning studios, training and seminar facilities, student computing classrooms, and a state-of-the-art Usability Lab.

For the 38 campus-wide student computing classrooms alone, OIT administers more than 1,200 microcomputers. OIT also provides over 100 individual computing kiosks with Internet connectivity. Additionally, OIT designed new innovative, student-centered Tech Stop technology centers that allow walk-in consultations and assistance. This set of robust services and spaces positions OIT well as a campus leader that readily serves the various needs of administrators, faculty, staff, and students both inside and outside the classroom.

Additionally, the OIT's Digital Media Center (DMC) advances the thoughtful application of digital technologies by faculty, staff, and students through research, design, training, programs, professional development, consultation services, and evaluation services. One specific service, Research and Evaluation Services, designs and conducts research projects related to the use of educational technology at the University of Minnesota, often in collaboration with faculty and other staff members.

In spring 2007, OCM asked OIT to PAIR-up and share expertise from the Research and Evaluation Services team to evaluate and learn about instructor and student attitudes and expectations regarding the teaching and learning in these new ALC spaces as well as how the spaces were used. Read on to learn more about the ALCs, role of the ALC Pilot Evaluation Team, specific research questions and methods, key findings, and future recommendations.

About the Active Learning Classrooms

In 2006, OCM explored two major threads in conceptualizing future designs that would respond to emerging requirements of teaching and learning in University of Minnesota classrooms:

The first was the need to include space flexibility in classrooms as a high priority in renovation and construction projects, using flooring and wall-system technologies that were increasingly used in industrial, lab, and commercial applications.

The second was recognition of the potential value of a new, collaborative, more student-centered classroom model exemplified by Professor Robert Beichner's development at North Carolina State University of the SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) classroom2 and the TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Planning and design work followed for what was initially called the U of M "Future Flexible Classroom," and later the "Active Learning Classroom." The idea for a pilot project emerged as a valuable way to demonstrate the viability of the new construction technologies to university capital-planning officials and senior administrators, and to allow necessary vetting and approval by university building code officials. OCM also recognized that the pilot would be of great interest and benefit to faculty and students who were interested in the unfolding active learning classroom concept. Selection of appropriate candidate spaces followed, which was a difficult process constrained by availability, physical factors, location, renovation potential, and building-level cost issues.

Two pilot project classrooms were identified for separate sequential renovation projects. The first was a 36-capacity fixed-bench classroom in the Twin Cities Minneapolis campus Electrical Engineering/Computer Science (EE/CSci) building. The second was created by merging two existing general classrooms and one Biology computer lab into one classroom in the Biological Sciences Center (BioSci) building on the St. Paul campus.


EE/CSci 2-260 and BioSci 64 before renovation

Photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Office of Classroom Management

Funding was obtained by combining planned life cycle, replacement, technology upgrade, and other funds from the multiple rooms involved.

During spring and summer 2007, the General Purpose Active Learning Classroom initiative constructed two pilot project classrooms that are designed as student-centered, integrated, flexible, active learning spaces — Electrical Engineering/Computer Science (EE/CSci) 2-260, which seats 45, on the East Bank and Biological Sciences Center (BioSci) 64, which seats 117, on the St Paul campus.


EE/CSci 2-260 and BioSci 64 after renovation

Photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Office of Classroom Management

Goal for the ALCs:

To create a student-centered space that supports active learning using flexible design and innovative construction techniques that allow instructors and students to experience new classroom designs and experiment with different teaching and learning strategies.

The ALC pilots were intended to stimulate interest in innovative classroom design, to demonstrate flexible classroom construction techniques, and to allow assessment of learning outcomes. For more information on the two rooms following renovation, watch UMN's quicktime video and see the sidebars on Active Learning Classroom EE/CSci 2-260 and Active Learning Classroom BioSci 64.

The ALCs emerged in fall 2007 from renovation as a pilot project to support active engagement of both instructors and students. The rooms are modifications of the original SCALE-UP and TEAL designs and are built upon the technology foundation of the University of Minnesota Projection Capable Classroom (PCC) standard. This classroom technology standard was implemented in 2000 by OCM in close coordination and collaboration with the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus community. Today, the laptop-based PCC standard is a proven success in 285 University of Minnesota general-purpose classrooms and more than 125 other instructional spaces. The control systems in the ALCs use variants of the same user-friendly PCC operator protocol with which teachers are familiar all over campus, with additional modules and capability for the added switching and functionality. Both ALCs are covered by the University of Minnesota's campus-wide wireless network, which includes over 1,700 wireless access points.

As a fundamental part of its design, the PCC-based ALC is predicated on student-provided laptops or computing devices. The ALC design looks forward to the time when "person-based" mobile computing overtakes room-based installed computing infrastructure in many classroom situations. The rapid increase in person-based mobile computing using laptop/notebook/netbook/browser-equipped cell phone devices is increasingly apparent, fueled by both technology development and convergence. Therefore, the ALC design does not provide installed student computers or laptops. Instead, the design emphasizes the use of the classroom's basic tech infrastructure using campus-wide standards, interfaces, and protocols, to provide seamless and user-friendly integration of student-provided devices, along with the ability to project and share both student and teacher information.

The ALC classroom design assumes that in the future there will be an institution-wide personal computing solution and that student personal computing devices will become as ubiquitous as are cell phones today. However, it is recognized that while a number of individual departments and programs currently have student laptop standards, the university today does not have such a standard for all students. The campus remains in transition to this future of person-based computing.

In support of the ALC pilot initiative, OIT and OCM engaged in a laptop initiative/partnership to provide student laptops as an interim solution in ALC pilot classrooms. This laptop initiative/partnership provides temporary transitional support and will accommodate as many requests as possible, subject to resource constraints and other requirements. In the OIT Laptop Initiative, OIT technicians deliver the laptops at the beginning of class and pick them up at the end of class. In addition, technicians re-image the laptops regularly, which helps protect them from security issues. Future plans include additional collaborations and partnerships with colleges, departments, and other units to ease the transition to more person-based devices and to enhance the learning initiatives in ALCs.

The ALCs feature large, round tables that seat nine students each in teams of three. Three switchable laptop connections at the table allow the students to select which laptop displays on the adjacent 42- or 50-inch wall-mounted LCD. The instructor at the podium can select any table display for projection on the room's large dual display screens as well as selecting any specific display on the large projection and student screens from an instructor station. These rooms also feature a 360-degree glass marker board around the circumference of the classroom. Both ALCs are covered by the University of Minnesota's campus-wide wireless network.

The ALCs are readily available for group and individual work before and after scheduled class time. Reflecting student preferences, the ALCs, especially the smaller 45-capacity room, have quickly become one of the most sought after and heavily used student study spaces on campus.

In support of the important design objective of flexibility, the ALCs employ reconfigurable low-profile flooring with internal power and cable management to accommodate reconfiguring technology and wiring in the room. Demountable wall systems that meet the acoustic performance criteria in the university's classroom standards allow the rooms to be reconfigured, saving renovation costs over the life cycle of the building. ALCs can be "flexed" on a semester basis to meet changing room size or teaching requirements. The larger space in BioSci (117 capacity) is divisible into two ALCs (72 and 36 capacity), or two traditional seating table/chair classrooms, or one ALC and one traditional classroom.

BioSci64 - Flex upBioSci64

BioSci 64 flexed up with capacity for 117 and flexed down with two rooms and variable seating (one ALC and one traditional table/chair classroom)

Diagrams courtesy of University of Minnesota Office of Classroom Management

Classroom project costs were $147,000 for EE/CSci 2-260 and $269,000 for BioSci 64. These include all classroom AV and technology engineering, design, equipment, and installation plus furniture costs, and are representative for those contemplating similar projects. These costs do not include construction costs for permits/fees, electrical/lighting, wall/floor systems, construction, and abatement, which are highly variable depending on the specific building renovation scenario.

The pilot classrooms stimulated lively discussion on campus regarding student-centered learning versus lecture-style teaching. Some faculty members were strongly in favor of retaining large lecture halls and did not embrace the changes that ALCs represent. The university responded by underscoring its commitment to changes in teaching and learning, such as the ALCs, while also noting that the large number and diversity of classroom types on campus, including 25 large lecture halls, provide for the wide range of teaching and learning needs of faculty and students.

The University of Minnesota has just started site demolition and construction of a new Science Teaching and Student Services building, slated to open in fall 2010. The building includes 10 ALCs similar to the BioSci 64 design.

STSS Rendering

Rendering of planned Science Teaching and Student Services building from a west elevation looking east.

Rendering by Kohn, Pedersen, Fox Associates (KPF), courtesy of University of Minnesota

Forming the ALC Pilot Evaluation Team

The Office of Classroom Management partnered with the Digital Media Center to form the ALC Pilot Evaluation Team. This joint effort was designed to leverage OCM's expertise in the physical, technology, and operational environment of the classroom with DMC's expertise in faculty development, evaluation, assessment, and emerging academic technologies.

OCM staff focused on the classroom, including all aspects of infrastructure, furniture, and technology. DMC staff focused on faculty development and support as well as the evaluation process, analysis, and results. Collaboratively, the team developed and implemented the evaluation plan for the ALC rooms, determined the faculty development and support services, and discussed emerging issues, such as pedagogical and technical support and technology needs.

The ALC Pilot Evaluation Team conducted research to learn about instructor and student attitudes and expectations regarding teaching and learning in these new spaces, as well as how the spaces were utilized, the teaching strategies employed, and the technologies and room features used. The evaluation team met twice a month during fall 2007 and monthly during spring 2008 to discuss the research project.

The value of partnership and leveraging expertise in this fashion cannot be overstated. Neither OCM nor DMC has the staff, depth of knowledge, resources, or mission to overlap the other's areas of responsibility. However, the strengths of each organization are complementary. The partnership approach allowed a more rigorous assessment from faculty and student perspectives, and the emerging faculty development will benefit teaching outcomes at the university more broadly.

In addition to the OCM-DMC evaluation partnership, OIT's Customer Engagement team partnered with individual departments and faculty members teaching in the ALC rooms to provide computing devices for some students and courses in those rooms.

Research Questions and Methods

Although the existing literature on learning spaces suggests that design features impact teaching and learning,3 few research studies support this assertion with evidence. To close this knowledge gap, the ALC Pilot Evaluation Team conducted a research study from September 2007 to May 2008 to learn about instructor and student perceptions regarding teaching and learning in these new spaces, including teaching strategies as well as the technologies and physical features employed.

The ALC evaluation team determined the following research questions:

  • What are faculty attitudes and expectations for the new learning space?
  • How do students perceive the new spaces?
  • What teaching/learning strategies were used, and how did the rooms facilitate or inhibit those strategies?
  • In what ways did the physical features, such as seating, sightlines, lighting, ventilation, acoustics, and power affect teaching and learning?

Results and Key Findings

To answer these questions, Table 1 illustrates the research methods we employed, including instructor interviews, instructor surveys, student surveys, student focus groups, and classroom observations for fall 2007 and spring 2008. In fall 2007, the evaluation process involved distributing instructor and student questionnaires on the four courses taught in the ALCs. The response rate for the student questionnaire was 27.1 percent (n = 51) and the response rate for the instructor questionnaire was 100 percent (n = 4). Instructor interviews were conducted at the beginning of the semester (n = 3) and at the end of the semester (n = 2). In addition, classroom observations were conducted at the convenience of faculty (n = 13). In spring 2008, the evaluation process involved distributing both instructor and student questionnaires on the 11 courses taught in the ALCs. The response rate for the student questionnaire was 35.4 percent, and the response rate for the instructor questionnaire was 69.2 percent (n = 9). Instructor interviews were conducted at the beginning of the semester (n = 8) and at the end of the semester (n = 5). In addition, classroom observations were conducted at the convenience of faculty (n = 16).

Table 1. Research Methods Employed

  Fall 2007
(4 courses)
Spring 2008
(13 courses)
(17 courses)
Instructor Interviews 3 intake interviews, 2 exit interviews 8 intake interviews, 5 exit interviews 11 intake interviews, 7 exit interviews
Instructor Survey 4/4 (100%) 9/13 (69%) 13/17 (76%)
Student Survey 51/188 (27%) 117/330 (35%) 168/518 (32%)
Student Focus Groups 0 1 1
Classroom Observations 13 16 29

Question 1: Instructor Attitudes and Expectations

What are faculty attitudes and expectations for the new learning spaces as they start the semester? Do their attitudes and expectations change over the term, and are they fulfilled?

Data from the interviews and surveys suggests that faculty members held positive attitudes and high expectations before, during, and after the semester they taught in the ALCs.

The key findings are as follows:

  • ALCs changed the learning experience:
    • Changed/deepened instructor-student relationships
    • Shifted roles to a "learning coach" or a facilitator
    • Created the environment where learning could easily occur
    • Offered a space that was already designed for collaboration, which minimized class preparation time and allowed more focus on course content
  • Some faculty had user interface difficulties. One instructor commented:
    "The menu driven controls take a lot of getting used to. The fact that one has to keep on going from one menu to another to set up displays is quite cumbersome and time consuming. At one point I got so frustrated about showing a student laptop screen that I simply took the laptop to the podium and put it under the document camera."
  • Faculty had expectations for person-based computing devices in the ALCs. To provide a short-term solution, OIT immediately offered partnerships with departments and colleges to provide computing devices
  • Examples of faculty comments:
    • "It was great. I really enjoyed the room, and the ability to work with students in groups. The ability of students to present their results on flat-screen TVs was particularly helpful."
    • The room created the environment for students to become "lifelong colleagues and friends" with each other.
    • The strength of this space is that it repels the notion that the "teacher is the only person in the room who makes knowledge" and helps create a "learning community to build relationships" and knowledge.
    • "Having an informal layout really helped in the interaction between me and the students and also among the students."
    • "It has been a great experience. I really like the round table arrangements, the flat-screen monitors for each group, and the large screen on both ends of the room."
    • "I need to keep teaching in a room like that. It's impossible to do what we did without it."

Question 2: Student Perceptions

How do students perceive the new spaces? Are they comfortable in the new arrangements? How do the new spaces affect their relationships with their classmates? With their instructors?

The key findings are as follows:

  • Overall favorable perceptions of the ALCs
  • Found the ALCs:
    • to be effective for teamwork and collaborative projects
    • helped them feel more connected to their instructor and, especially, to their classmates
    • encouraged discussion and helped them feel active and talkative
  • Reported some difficulty with the user interface on the instructor panel when they gave a class presentation
  • Provided statistically favorable responses towards the glass marker boards, yet had some critical comments about the reflective nature of these writing surfaces
  • Examples of student comments:
    • "The active learning classroom is a great learning tool. It is perfect for working in groups."
    • "I think the classroom is a different approach that appeals to a wider variety of learning styles than a standard lecture does."
    • "I love it! I actually like going to my biology lecture. And I don't feel like falling asleep (as I do in other lectures). I definitely think it has increased my interest in the class and the subject."
    • "I really like the technology and the availability of the professors for asking questions. You can be face to face during class and you don't have to yell across a lecture hall. The technology allows us to easily get information and aids us in our learning."
    • "I was able to talk without being dominated by my load [sic] classmates at other tables."
    • "It's been interesting. I have 3 classes in there [the Active Learning Classrooms] and each one uses the room in a different way. The one thing about this room that I notice most is that it seems to break down the traditional learning environment. That is, the professor and the students almost equally share authority especially with regard to digital environments."

Question 3: Learning Technologies

How are the technologies used, both from faculty and student perspectives? What teaching/learning strategies were used, and how did the rooms facilitate or inhibit those strategies?

Instructors used the PCC standard technology system to varying degrees, ranging from simply projecting DVD content to fully exploiting the available multi-source content, robust switching, and interactivity capabilities of the rooms. The student use of technology in the ALCs spanned the continuum from no technology at all to a full-fledged partnership with OIT with discipline-specific, resource-intensive software and laptops. For the departments and individual courses that engaged in the OIT Laptop Initiative, OIT technicians delivered the laptops at the beginning of class and picked them up at the end of the class and re-imaged them regularly, which help the computers' security and allowed faculty to leverage the technology affordances in the ALCs to maximize their student learning outcomes.

A key difference in student technology in the ALCs versus the TEAL or SCALE-UP rooms is the flat-panel display linked to each table, the ability of the students at that table to control switching of content to the display, and then the ability of the instructor to extend content from any student table to all displays and the projectors.

Although the ALCs are physically located in the biological science and the engineering/computer science buildings, they are general-purpose classrooms open to the university community and used by a variety of disciplines. The ALCs are covered by the OCM technology, facilities, and support protocols common to all general classrooms. Additionally, the OCM/OIT partnership offered an initial welcome tour to the space and access to the optional OIT laptop support. Since the spaces were so novel, we had close relationships with the faculty members, which allowed us to continually meet their needs and challenges in a timely manner.

A number of different teaching and learning strategies were used in ALCs across disciplines. Table 2 describes a few examples from the classroom observations conducted in the ALCs.

Table 2. Instructional Strategies Used in ALCs

Discipline Instructional Strategy Employed
Aerospace Engineering Provided software demo of a drawing tool for 3D objects using the two projection screens
Applied Economics Used the glass marker board to summarize the team discussions
Biology Answered a weekly question about competitive exclusion theory; worked in teams of nine using both laptop computers and the student display screens to examine how prey and predator populations interact
Computer Science Allowed graduate students to lead class discussion on intelligent agents from the instructor station
History of Medicine Encouraged students to work first in subgroups and then in teams of nine to tell a historical story regarding three electronic archival documents (such as photos, letters, reports, government documents)
Management of Technology Presented an innovative design proposal in a team of four to a panel of three business executives, with each team setting up a laptop at their assigned table while the panel sat at the table in the center of the room
Mechanical Engineering Used the document camera to demo a DC motor; allowed the class to work in teams to determine the torque and torque curve
Writing Studies Presented an everyday object on the document camera and projected it on the two instructor projection screens and all the student display screens to investigate its usability features and inherent affordances

The key findings are as follows:

  • Faculty found:
    • The ALCs are set up for collaboration, which doesn't require the preparation time that many other rooms require and creates an environment where learning could easily occur.
    • The round tables were key to the experience in the ALC:
      "The round tables — the fact that they are looking at each other instantly changes their relationship with each other. That's the main thing the room does; it changes the relationship that faculty have with students and the relationship that students have with one another."
      "The most important technology in the room is those round tables."
    • Integrating all the technology affordances together (student display screens, projection screens, document camera, glass marker boards, and round tables) enhanced the teaching and learning activities.
    • They used the document camera more than they expected.
  • Both faculty and students noted that the student display screens were helpful for teamwork. Several unsolicited comments spoke to the tremendous potential the ALC has for collaborative projects and team-based activities.
    • Examples of faculty comments:
      "One of the strengths of the space is it is logistically set up for [collaborative] projects."
      The space "facilitated service learning with a community partner in the Congo."
      "The active learning classroom is the most technologically advanced classroom I have been in here at the U of M. It supports delivery and retention of information through interactive uses of visual displays and small group discussions."
    • Examples of student comments:
      "The greatest thing about the classroom is that it facilitates team work and group participation!"
    •  "It is ideal for small group discussions, like we have done for CSci 8551. The lecturer talks for a while, then poses a discussion question to the class. Each table discusses separately, often writing ideas on the whiteboards ranging around the classroom. Then each table presents their ideas in turn. In this way it is easy for everyone to participate, which is much more difficult when students are arranged in a grid formation with every student facing in the same direction."
      "The active learning classroom is a great learning tool. It is perfect for working in groups."
  • Issues arose immediately with expectations about the availability of technology in the ALCs. Faculty expected the ALCs to include laptop computers.

Question 4: Physical Features

In what ways did the physical features, such as seating, sightlines, lighting, ventilation, acoustics, and power affect teaching and learning? Were any adjustments made by faculty in their teaching approach specifically in light of room design/function? If so, what was learned? If not, would they be willing to make adjustments of various sorts?

The quantitative data in the student questionnaire about the physical features of the ALCs were very positive statistically. The faculty and students in these rooms offered a number of comments, suggestions, and recommendations to help improve these learning spaces in the future, such as the glass marker boards, the instructor station, and round tables.

Both ALC pilot rooms were renovations that necessitated working around a number of design constraints, including structural support pillars that could not be removed, room dimensions, geometry, and building systems/infrastructure limitations.

Note also that accessibility is an important factor in all University of Minnesota designs for learning spaces, as reflected in the University of Minnesota Construction Standards for Classrooms. The ALCs include a number of universal design and other accessibility elements, such as the ramped transition to the ALCs that provide a flat floor entry to the rooms, wheelchair-accessible student tables, a flip-up wheelchair-height laptop surface with an auxiliary control panel on the instructor podium, accessible switches, and other features.

The key findings are as follows:

  • More than 85 percent of students surveyed in fall 2007 recommend this space for their other classes.
  • Accessibility concerns and some benefits emerged from the data:
    • One instructor reported an accessibility issue with a student with a disability. This instructor suggested that for some students with sensitivities or special needs, the ALCs are "visually busy" and command an increased amount of "cognitive load." This particular student in her course eventually stopped "coming to class."
    • Examples of student comments from the student survey:
      "The classroom is nice, but it still needs to be used appropriately. The Active Learning Classroom may be wonderful for some topics, but I have not felt any extreme benefits from it. It is difficult to follow the instructor (which I do because I read lips to aid my understanding), and I find it disconcerting when I don't know who is talking in the classroom (because the microphones make it seem like they're talking from everywhere). It is nice to have extra room at the table and in the chairs, though, and I enjoy having computers in class."
      "I always have trouble seeing the board in classrooms, but with a huge projector and individual screens I have no problem viewing what the teachers are presenting."
  • Both faculty and students:
    • Expressed a strong like of the ALCs
    • Offered many comments to make improvements for future ALCs. Some examples include improving the user interface for the instructor station and need for more space for students" personal items. Examples of faculty and student comments:
      Faculty "must work the room" to reach all the students. Some parts of the classroom have much more direct sightlines than others.
      Another faculty member commented, "I still don't know where to stand in that room — I have to account for all the students and adjust."
      One student commented, "I was at the corner 'rejected table' where the pillar is in the way."
  • Overall, the students responded favorably to the cleanliness, acoustics, lighting, space, comfort, and physical attributes of the ALCs.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The Active Learning Classrooms yielded very positive responses from faculty and students. More than 85 percent of students surveyed recommended the ALCs for their other classes. One student commented,

"I think that the Active Learning Classroom is amazing! When I first walked in I was blown away by all of the technology. After spending classtime in the room for about a semester, I have grown to love it. I really enjoy having our own monitors so our team can all view the same information at the same time!"

Another student mentioned,

"I love this space! It makes me feel appreciated as a student, and I feel intellectually invigorated when I work and learn in it."

Likewise, each of the faculty participants interviewed expressed a desire to continue teaching in the ALC:

"I loved it. I can't imagine teaching in a different place. It was just special — a wonderful class — a wonderful experience."

Faculty and students overwhelmingly found that this space made a difference for them.

The ALC Pilot Evaluation Team carefully reviewed the data from the study and provided the following recommendations from the study:

  • Indicate to faculty that computing devices are not included with the ALCs
  • Provide a mandatory faculty and student orientation to the ALCs consisting of a short hands-on orientation on the first day of class
  • Conduct usability testing to address the user interface difficulties and accessibility issues
  • Conduct a student focus group to learn more about targeted items in the ALC experience, such as the glass marker boards and person-based computing devices
  • Inform faculty about the various faculty support units at the University of Minnesota that can help them learn how to integrate technology-enhanced instructional strategies in the ALCs
  • Continue to promote a campus-wide awareness about the ALCs to administrators and support staff members

In addition to these recommendations, the ALC Pilot Evaluation Team and other key university stakeholders began to talk about broader institutional issues that emerged from this research study. The team learned that if the ALC walls could talk, they would say students felt "intellectually invigorated" and faculty loved to teach in the ALCs. These discussions revealed a number of other emerging themes and possible research questions in the broader scope of learning spaces:

  • How do group work and collaborative activities in learning spaces help support specific learning outcomes and student engagement?
  • Besides interviews, surveys, and classroom observations, what other innovative research techniques might we use to explore the relationship between faculty development programs, class assignments, learning outcomes, emerging technologies, and spaces?
  • What formal and informal learning spaces do students use to complete their course assignments, and how do they use them?
  • As mobile/person-based computing devices become more pervasive, what information technology and learning space infrastructure issues and teaching and learning issues do we need to address?

To begin to address these emerging themes, we recommend moving from studying perceptions, attitudes, and expectations to researching student learning outcomes and engagement issues.4

In this regard, we recently applied the PAIR-up model in teams that include tenured faculty, research experts, and undergraduate researchers. In these teams, we explored the relationships, if any, among formal and informal learning spaces, teaching and learning practices, and student learning outcomes. Using traditional and innovative research methods in an Archibald G. Bush grant extension, we examined three case studies of undergraduate courses in different disciplines across campus ranging in size from 22 to 117 students. A complete analysis of this study will be available in summer 2009. We intend to continually innovate our research around formal and informal learning spaces until we find solutions to the difficult questions that you, your colleagues, and your constituents encounter every day.

Additionally, since learning does not start or stop at the classroom door, the formal learning spaces designed and developed by the offices of Information Technology and Classroom Management function and serve as student study spaces both inside and outside of the classroom. The concept of space is not as rigid and static as it once was — space today is more fluid and flexible. This flexibility, coupled with the increasing emergence of ubiquitous student mobile computing devices will further blend formal and informal learning spaces on campus.

Finally, as students use their mobile devices within the wireless cloud of our campus spaces, colleges and universities need to define a roadmap to help their campus community address the technical infrastructure, support issues, and services needed for future mobile learning, research, and engagement environments. A recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project predicts that, by the year 2020, most people across the world will be using a mobile device as their primary means for connecting to the Internet. The 2009 NMC New Horizon Report states:

Mobiles are already in use as tools for education on many campuses. New interfaces, the ability to connect to wifi and GPS in addition to a variety of cellular networks, and the availability of third-party applications have created a device with nearly infinite possibilities for education, networking, and personal productivity on the go; almost every student carries a mobile device, making it a natural choice for content delivery and even field work and data capture. (p. 9)

To help define and determine the relationships, processes, and strategies needed at the University of Minnesota to support the rapid, ever-changing mobile computing world, OIT is currently applying the PAIR-up model to established a Mobile Initiative that works in partnership with colleges, other central units, and coordinate campuses to provide leadership in this area and to define a roadmap for the university community that addresses the present and future infrastructure and support needs and issues.

In closing, elevating campus conversations and initiatives at the intersection of mobile devices, learning spaces, and learning science ensures that 21st century higher education institutions provide learners with a diversity of well-designed learning environments. It will be critical to PAIR-up to design these learning environments. As mobile/person-based computing devices become more pervasive, it will be critical to understand the need for diverse learning environments, to design learning activities that integrate the affordances of mobile technologies, and to ensure we prepare faculty and students for these future learning environments.

  1. John Bransford, Ann Brown, and Rodney Cocking, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 1999); Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003); Michael Harris and Holley Karri, "Constructing the Interdisciplinary Ivory Tower: The Planning of Interdisciplinary Spaces on University Campuses," Planning for Higher Education, vol. 39 (April-June 2008), pp. 34–43; Dorothy Leonard and Jeffrey Rayport, "Spark Innovation through Empathetic Design," Harvard Business Review, vol. 75 (November/December 1997), pp. 102–112; M. D. Milliron, K. Plinske, and C. Noonan, "Building for a New Generation of Learning: Conversations to Catalyze our Construction," Planning for Higher Education, vol. 36 (October–December 2008), pp. 7–14; and Andrew Milne, "Entering the Interaction Age: Implementing a Future Vision for Campus Learning Spaces…Today," EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 42, no. 1 (January/February 2007), pp. 12–31,
  2. Robert J. Beichner, "The SCALE-UP Project: A Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs," National Academy of Sciences, September 2008.
  3. See the chapters by Malcolm Brown and Philip Long, "Trends in Learning Space Design,"; Nancy Van Note Chism, "Challenging Traditional Assumptions and Rethinking Learning Spaces,"; Cyprien Lomas and Diana G. Oblinger, "Student Practices and Their Impact on Learning Spaces,"; and Diana G. Oblinger, "Space as a Change Agent,", in Learning Spaces, Diana G. Oblinger (Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE, 2007).
  4. Linda Jorn, Aimee Whiteside, and Ann Hill Duin, "PAIR-up," EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 44, no. 2 (March/April 2009).

Aimee Whiteside ([email protected]) is a Research Fellow in the Digital Media Center, Office of Information Technology, at the University of Minnesota, and the Assistant Director for the Master of Science and Certificate programs in Scientific and Technical Communication in the University of Minnesota's Department of Writing Studies.

Linda Jorn ([email protected]) is the Director of the Digital Media Center, Office of Information Technology, at the University of Minnesota.

Ann Hill Duin is Associate Vice President and Associate CIO, Office of Information Technology, at the University of Minnesota.

Steve Fitzgerald ([email protected]) is the founding Director of the Office of Classroom Management at the University of Minnesota