The past several years have seen innovation, growth, and advancements in new learning spaces on the University of Minnesota campus in the form of Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs), a new Science Teaching and Student Services building, the SMART learning commons, and newly-designed student study spaces and lounges. OIT's Research and Evaluation team has partnered with faculty and staff from across the U of M to conduct systematic investigations of these spaces, centered on the question: To what extent and in what ways do new, technology-enhanced learning spaces shape teaching and learning?
Pilot research: Student and faculty reactions
Exploratory research into the impact of the ALCs began in August 2007. These investigations, which were funded by the Archibald Bush Foundation and conducted in collaboration with the Office of Classroom Management, showed that:
Read more about the pilot research at Transform--SoTL at the University of Minnesota.
Comparison studies: Student learning outcomes and faculty behavior
Later, more formal research combined quantitative and qualitative research designs and data collection methods to study both formal and informal learning spaces. Research on the formal learning environments involved course grade data as well as data collected using a class observation form, a student survey, an instructor interview, and student focus groups. The informal environments research used data gathered by means of student focus groups, student assignment logs, and photo surveys.
This investigation has yielded the following findings:
Read more about this research in Making the Case for Space: Three Years of Empirical Research on Learning Environments and in Pedagogy and Space: Empirical Research on New Learning Environments.
The faculty experience: Role-differentiated responses to ALCs
In 2011, staff from OIT, OCM, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Measurement Services, and the Office of Institutional Research convened a group to study the impact of the new Science Teaching and Student Services (STSS) building and its 15 ALCs on teaching and learning at the University. In spring 2012, the group undertook a study of role-differentiated responses to ALCs, using large-scale surveys of students and faculty in 21 classes, along with systematic class observations and focus groups, to assess reactions to and perceptions of classes taught in the ALCs.
The following are key findings from this investigation:
Current research: Moderators, mediators, and mechanisms
Research into the impact of ALCs on teaching and learning continues during the 2013-2014 academic year. Our general approach is to build on the body of existing research conducted at Minnesota and elsewhere. If newly configured, technology-enhanced classrooms do have a variety of good effects on teaching and learning, a natural next question has to do with mechanisms. How, or in virtue of what, do new learning spaces have the effects they do? Under what conditions will the impact
of new learning spaces be enhanced or mitigated?
Our investigations into moderators and mechanisms include:
Further, the OIT Research & Evaluation team is currently editing a volume of New Directions for Teaching and Learning (Volume 137, Spring 2014) that will explore the history, current research and best teaching practices in active learning spaces.
Leveraging Space: Testing the Flipped Classroom
Classroom space is at a premium on many college campuses, making efficient use of space a high priority. In 2012-2013, we worked with Michelle Driessen, a professor of Chemistry, to test an instructional model with three main components:
In general, reducing instructor-student contact should hinder student learning, because quantity of substantive interaction with faculty members is positively associated with the learning outcomes students achieve (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).
Our hypothesis was that the use of active learning classrooms in conjunction with a flipped classroom model could overcome the reduction in student learning outcomes theoretically expected from reduced face-to-face instructional time.
We tested this hypothesis by comparing student reactions and learning outcomes from an introductory Chemistry class taught in a traditional classroom to those from two instances of the same class taught in an ALC using the flipped model. Our findings were:
Read a brief paper describing this investigation.
Educational Alliances: Changing Relationships to Improve Learning
As far back as 2007, ALC instructors and students reported differences in classroom relationships that they believed were a result of the ALC environment. The differences were often described as a matter of breaking down barriers, bridging gaps, or bringing people closer together—in both a physical and a psychological sense—in the classroom. As one faculty member put it in 2007:
"The main thing the room does—it changes the relationship that faculty have with students, and the relationship that students have with one another."
One strand of our research seeks to systematically investigate this idea, using the theoretical framework of the educational alliance (Meyers, 2008; Tiberius & Billson, 1991) to structure the research.This framework proposes that an educationally constructive social context is built around the following five dimensions:
1. Mutual respect;
2. Shared responsibility for learning;
3. Communication and feedback;
4. Cooperation; and
5. Trust and security.
Preliminary research using existing data has shown that there is some reason to believe that ALCs conduce to the creation of educational alliances between students and instructors, and among students. Work on a valid and reliable measure for measuring educational alliances in the classroom is proceeding, with further instrument testing and a comparison-design study planned for 2013-2014. View a presentation on this research, or read a brief write-up on the preliminary findings.
New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Volume 137, Spring 20014
Editors: Paul Baepler, D. Christopher Brooks, J.D. Walker
Announcing a forthcoming edited collection of essays in New Directions for Teaching and Learning (Jossey-Bass Publishing) that will explore the history, research, and teaching practice of these new, technology-enhanced active learning spaces.
Editors’ Note: D. Christopher Brooks, J.D. Walker, and Paul Baepler -- Introduction
Chapter 1: Robert Beichner -- History and evolution of active learning spaces
Chapter 2: Sam Van Horne, Cecilia Murniati, Kem Saichaie, Maggie Jessie, Jean Florman, and M. Beth Ingram. -- Using qualitative research to assess teaching and learning in technology-infused TILE classrooms
Chapter 3: Paul Baepler and J.D. Walker -- Active learning classrooms and educational alliances: Changing relationships to improve learning
Chapter 4: Anastasia S. Morrone, Judy A. Ouimet, Greg Siering, and Ian Arthur -- Coffeehouse as classroom: Examination of a new style of active learning environment
Chapter 5: D. Christopher Brooks and Catherine A. Solheim. -- Pedagogy matters, too: The impact of adapting teaching approaches to formal learning environments on student learning environments on student learning
Chapter 6: Beth Fahlberg, Elizabeth Rice, Rebecca Muehrer, and Danielle Brey -- Active learning environments and pedagogies in nursing education: The experience of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Chapter 7: David Langley and Selcen Guzey -- Conducting an Introductory Biology Course in an Active Learning Classroom: A Case Study of an Experienced Faculty Member
Chapter 8: Christina Petersen and Kris Gorman -- Strategies to address common challenges when teaching in active learning classrooms
Chapter 9: Jean C. Florman -- TILE at Iowa: Adoption and adaptation
Chapter 10: Aimee Whiteside -- Conclusion
For researchers: our learning space data collection instruments are licensed under a licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. This means they are available free of charge to members of the academic community who wish to use them, in whole or in part, in their own research. Please simply email J.D. Walker to let us know about your plans, and please give credit in an appropriate place in your work to the Research & Evaluation Team, OIT, University of Minnesota.