This spring I was lucky to be a part of a faculty professional learning community (FPLC). Once a week I got to walk up campus to Odegaard Library and spend an hour with other faculty and staff from across the university, to talk deeply about active learning classrooms. The impetus for this FPLC was the brand new pair of active learning classrooms that have been created as part of the remodeling of Odegaard. Each week for spring quarter, one of us led the discussion and focused on a different aspect of teaching in an active learning classroom — what is needed? How do we do it? What have we already experimented with? What are the successes and challenges we’ve seen or experienced ourselves? How will we use these new spaces in the library? We brought in examples of lesson plans that could be adapted to the new spaces and offered each other tips on how to make them stronger. Once the rooms were nearly finished, we got to tour them and do some pretend teaching using the equipment and practicing being in the space.
The classrooms are amazing — they were designed and created specifically to enhance student learning in small and large groups, using the most current technology and allowing for flexible leadership among students and faculty. The teacher is not tied to the front, students are arranged in tables of nine that can also be used as three sets of three, there are monitors all around and the person at the controls can toggle all sorts of configurations of what is on the screens. There are glass boards at arm’s reach of each table for writing, and alcove booths for even smaller groups of students to work together away from the main group.
One member of our FPLC will be teaching in the ALC this autumn quarter. He was at first unsure of how he would be able to make some of his materials work for this space. He teaches geography, and he uses actual maps that he hangs on the white board in a traditional classroom. Once he saw the room take shape his imagination got started and together our group brainstormed some ways for him to adapt what he does plus try some new approaches. He realized that he could actually allow students to work in smaller groups on the maps if he figured out how to project them — and then came up with several ways to try that, while still having the physical maps up on one of the walls. He plans to take it slowly and not hold every session in the ALC for the first quarter. Making this shift means changes in his lesson plans and some of his materials, so doing it all at once is a huge endeavor.
Even if you don’t have access to the ALCs in Odegaard, you can start slowly, make a few changes, and brainstorm some new approaches. There are lots of resources available to help make your lesson plans more active. Some are on the Odegaard ALC web site linked above. Some you can get from me if you let me know. In A-300 we are here to help — for the UW SOM faculty in Seattle and across WWAMI, let me know if there is anything I can do to support your efforts to promote active learning in your classroom.