What is it?
In 2016 the university refurbished four classrooms for use as group learning and lecture space to better support active learning. The rooms (3x60 seat and 1x30 seat) were fitted out using different furniture and technology solutions to test ideas for a new learning and teaching hub due for completion in 2019.
Watch a short video about one of the new technology enhanced active learning spaces:
The common thread between the different approaches in each room was to better support active learning.
Active learning is rooted in social-constructivist pedagogy which says that learning is not something static that can be transferred from one person to another. Instead knowledge is constructed by each individual through their interactions with others. Teaching therefore focuses less on lectures and more on activities that involve group working.
The university is clear that it is not promoting these designs in order to prevent lecturing but simply to improve interaction. Academics can still lecture in the spaces but they also have the opportunity to walk around, observe and participate. Students are influenced and inspired by this type of contact.
The university considered all of the previous feedback from staff about the kind of environment they wanted to work in before even starting to think about design.
Academics and students were involved in the project from the very beginning. An academic champion prepared a paper that formed the basis for the design brief and a student intern worked on the project and was involved in decisions such as the choice of chairs.
Significant negotiation was involved in ensuring the plans were realistic.
Undertaking these pilots (further rooms were completed in 2017) has helped form a strong working partnership across a number of academic, support and student bodies which will set the university in good stead for creating its new learning and teaching hub in 2019.
User involvement and advocacy at the design stage is crucial. Engaging with a wide range of prospective users and specialist services will assist in future-proofing by anticipating inclusivity as a key element of design.
The university follows a simple process. The starting point for which is the design brief created with academic input:
- Briefs delivered to the project team
- Discussions/debates organised
- Project team design the spaces
- Project team work with IT/other support team
- Learn from pilot rooms: some things to be maintained and some ‘failures’ to avoid
- Open to constant review
The discussion/debate stage is crucial. These discussions can be both formal and informal and it is often helpful to ensure that the discussions take place in the space you are planning to refurbish.
The design brief stated that every room should be different in order to test multiple ideas and new technologies and accommodate a range of different needs. It also required the rooms to be flexible, inspiring and interactive.
The university spread the net widely when looking for sources of inspiration and did a literature review of worldwide universities with a strong focus on interaction and collaboration.
One inspiration was the Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) concept originally developed at MIT. TEAL spaces are classrooms that have been adapted to encourage interactive learning in small groups supported by technology available to the students and staff.
Two of the university's pilot spaces are TEAL rooms. The Hugh Fraser room has a combination of six and eight seat media tables with dual screens and a central lectern with controls for the tutor.
The other rooms have less emphasis on technology but are nonetheless geared up for group working. In the Gannochy room, node chairs on wheels allow rapid change between students seated in rows traditional lecture style and reconfiguration into smaller groups. Portable whiteboards are also available for student use. All the rooms encourage active learning.
Hugh Fraser room
The Hugh Fraser room is a 60 seat TEAL room.
The Gannochy room is a 60 seat seminar/lecture room.
St Andrews room 202
St Andrews room 202 is a 30 seat seminar room.
St Andrews room 230
St Andrews room 230 is a 30 seat seminar room.
There was considerable negotiation between different stakeholder groups on the choice of technologies. There was also a fear of investing in technologies that could become outdated very quickly.
There were tensions in relation to the potential capabilities of technology and what could be put to effective use. The university takes the view that it cannot force staff to be trained in technology use so it needs to gauge how much to invest with a realistic view of what will actually be used. Rather than training the university is developing workshops and sharing discussions on active learning with or without technology.
There was considerable debate about the double screens for each table in the TEAL rooms and whether one larger screen would have been better. Now that it is in place students and lecturers find the double screens useful. However, this could have been supported with a larger split screen.
It is important to ensure that learning technology and AV support is readily available during the first couple of weeks of teaching.
Technologies in use
- Top Tec media tables
- Lecture capture system
- Electronic voting system (EVS)
- Wifi apps
- Interactive surfaces
- Writing technologies
In general the pilots have been well received by both staff and students and many academics are enthusiastic about the opportunity to adjust their teaching style and course activities to good advantage. The primary focus of evaluation to date has been on the TEAL rooms.
One lecturer noted that once he moved teaching to the TEAL rooms, more students opted to do dissertations in his subject than in previous years which is a good indication of better engagement.
Some academics who have chosen to lecture in a static manner in the TEAL rooms find this approach does not work well because, by remaining at the lectern, they have their back to some of the students. This is the case in the room where the lectern is in the middle of the room.
Our experience has been that student collaboration has been as important as the technology.
The university’s Learning and Teaching Development Fund (LTFD) supported a project entitled ‘Evidence Based Co-Created Teaching Tips for TEAL Spaces’ which was led by Dr Susan Deeley in collaboration with Dr Wendy Alexander and two PG students as research assistants. This was to help alleviate the 'fear of the unknown' and help colleagues build greater confidence in using the new spaces by developing some teaching tips. Sources of evidence for the research include:
- Course documentation
- Reflective questionnaires from students
- Focus groups with students and staff
- Additional evidence, such as instructors’ notes
Questions to aid reflective evaluation
- When have you felt most engaged with what was happening?
- When have you felt most distanced from what was happening?
- What have you found most puzzling or confusing?
- What has surprised you the most?
(Sourced from Brookfield, S.D. (2012) Teaching for Critical Thinking San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)
Tips for teaching in TEAL spaces
Evidence-based, co-created teaching tips for TEAL spaces include:
- Facilitate effective group work - the layout of a TEAL space is highly conducive to group work, which can increase students’ confidence and ability to work in a team
- Be aware of group dynamics - the stationary nature of the inbuilt technology can lead the same students to take control of the keyboards each week. To ensure more inclusive learning opportunities for students, staff can encourage shared participatory roles within group work
- Explain the rationale for, and principles of, using TEAL spaces to students - class time can be wasted through not knowing why or how we are using technology. Staff should allocate time at the start of courses for students to explore the available technology with IT support
- Understand how the technology works before teaching - knowing the nature of the technology and how it works in advance of a class means that staff can plan class activities with confidence and have a ‘back up’ plan if the technology fails
These tips are based on findings from a project supported by the University of Glasgow learning and teaching development fund (LTDF) and published on GUSTTO (Glasgow University's Teaching Tips Online) by Deeley, Anderson, Penney and Tully.
The tips are also included in: Deeley, S.J., Anderson, W., Penney, J. and Tully, J. 'A staff-student partnership in the co-creation of evidence based teaching tips for technology enhanced active learning (TEAL) spaces in higher education' (forthcoming)
Change management and transition
The rooms are managed through a central booking system. The decision to teach in one of the pilot spaces is largely self-motivated. Staff apply to use the rooms and class size is taken into account when deciding whether or not the application is successful.
Advance planning is crucial if the use of the space is to enhance learning and teaching practice. Staff need to familiarise themselves with the room and the technology and plan how they will redesign elements of their course in order to take advantage of the affordances of the space.
In the video below Dr Joseph Maguire talks about the transition to using TEAL spaces as a member of staff. He was well supported by the university and attended sessions on learning technology, teaching practice for active learning and use of the AV equipment before starting to use the new room.
Most importantly, he also had the opportunity to talk to staff and students who had already used the space.
For more on each of the topics mentioned in this case study see the UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit.
Find out more about the original TEAL project at MIT.