Active Learning

Active learning is a mode of instruction that can be done in traditional classrooms but it can also be enhanced with various levels of technology. A key function of the technology is facilitating and enabling small-group learning with ease of sharing.

Types of Active Learning Spaces at UMD

Photo: Active Learning  Classroom
Pod Type Classroom, Swenson Science Building 216,
(text description of photo is available)

At UMD we currently have 5 types of spaces conducive to active learning:

1. Limited Technology

The first type is learning with round tables combined with many nearby white board spaces. An example is SCC 21.

2. Virtual Technology via Student Laptops

The second type is shared folders in Google Drive as described in the article: Use Google Docs instead of waiting for one of those expensive Active Learning Classrooms...What?!?

3. Open Configuration

The third type is multiple monitors / projectors available for students to display media, moveable furniture to reconfigure into groups of any size. An example is ABAH 445.

4. Pod Classroom

The fourth type is round tables (pods) of 9 (ability to further divide into smaller tables with groups of 3) with technology (monitors, audio, camera, microphone) at each pod. Examples are SSB 216, Humanities 484, and KPlz 175. Pod Active Learning Classroom User Guides are available.

5. Automated Video Conferencing

The fifth type is peninsula tables of nine with dual display video conferencing, Interactive Television, Vapio camera system, voice activated peninsula cameras, and full active learning pod functionality as described above. An example is Kathryn A. Martin Library (KAML) 410.

Characteristics of an Active Learning Space

As the Scale-Up Web site illuminates, characteristics of an Active Learning space are:

  • Most of the class time is spent on "tangibles", "ponderables," and "visibles." Essentially these are hands-on activities, interesting questions and problems, or simulations.
  • There is some lecturing, but that is mostly to provide motivation and a view of the "big picture," which is difficult for students to see when they are not familiar with the entire course content.
  • If you are lecturing for more than 15 minutes in a typical 50-minute period, you are probably talking too much.
  • Most of the class time is spent with the students working together. As an individual or group figures something out, they naturally (because of the way the class and room are structured) tend to share what they've learned with others.
  • Things that used to take place inside the classroom, like content delivery, now take place primarily outside the formal learning space.

The more advanced applications of the content, along with anything they don't understand from their preparatory work, is discussed in class where they have the instructor and their peers nearby to help.

For further information please consult the Scale-Up Project and Flipped Teaching.