Last week I attended the Digital Classroom Roadshow that was held at the University of South Wales. The roadshow was born from Duncan Peberdy‘s Active Learning Spaces and Technology: Advances in Higher and Further Education book. The roadshow has been touring UK institutions for the last 18 months to highlight the proven benefits that active learning has on student learning and attainment.
Active learning and flexible spaces is not new to me but I was interested to see what is happening across the sector and find out what challenges have had to be overcome to implement such spaces, as well as what technology would be used for the room, how easy it is to use and is it device and operating system agnostic.
Duncan started off with an introduction to the SCALE-UP project, this project started in North Carolina State University physics department as an initiative to change the mode of teaching as they were finding their traditional method was not working and they had a high drop out rate. The project changed the learning mode and environment to a highly collaborative, hands-on, computer rich interactive learning environment for large cohorts. The impact of this change in mode is summarised below:
– Ability to solve problems is improved
– Conceptual understanding is increased
– Attitudes are improved
– Failure rates are drastically reduced, especially for women and minorities
– “At risk” students do better in later engineering statics classes
The basic premise of this approach: get students working together to examine something interesting, and free the teacher to roam about the room asking questions, challenging students and stirring up debates, was showcased during the roadshow and also how technology can aid this way of working.
The technology solution used during the roadshow was that produced by Kramer, each table had a Kramer Pro box and the lectern PC had a Kramer campus box. What these allow is for students to connect their own device, Android, iOS, Windows, Mac etc. to the monitor on their table and collaborate on documents or present documents, video, images from their own device to the rest of the group. The teacher has a simple to use Application that has control of all of the monitors in the room and can override the monitors with their own presentation, or share one of the groups displays with the rest of the groups monitors.
Over the last 12 months here in SALT we have been looking at a range of other/alternative solutions that promise to do this type of collaborative sharing, but until now all have fallen short of the mark, either due to complexity of connecting devices or that they are limited to only one or two operating systems. The Kramer quite easily let all of the devices listed to connect and share content. There were restrictions on iOS devices, and it was highlighted that the solution works best with laptop devices rather than tablet/phones but all the same this is the first solution that allowed multiple devices to easily connect and share content/screen.
Also at the roadshow was Nicholas Burwell, Director of Burwell Deakins Architects, who was behind the design of the Loughborough University collaborative lecture theatre (amongst others). He gave an interesting discussion covering the modern thinking behind university lecture theatre design. I found his presentation fascinating giving some interesting views as to the way students are changing and how we should be adapting to accommodate these changes both in pedagogy and the design of our teaching spaces. You can view his presentation at an earlier roadshow in 2016 below ( would highly recommend taking the time to do so)
Duncan continued on this theme and showed further examples of innovative, flexible, active learning spaces across UK institutions he has worked or visited.
Two points were also mentioned during the roadshow the first was of cost. The Roadshow setup cost in the region of £50,000, which sounds expensive, but Duncan put it in the context of the SCALE-UP project; by implementing that type of learning space it had improved student retention. So in turn if by implementing a similar space in the UK improves the retention of 2 students (on average spend £9,000 per year on fees), the cost of the room is covered. As well as paying for itself active learning has been shown to improve student attainment so those students that do use the room will also benefit in their knowledge and understanding.
Secondly Nicholas mentioned that the Loughborough collaborative lecture theatre was designed and built for Design school, but it has been so popular that it has now moved into the central timetable system for any department to use, and its utilisation is far greater than traditional lecture theatres as it is being used both for didactic and active teaching both to large and small cohorts. It was also noted that these spaces digital classrooms, collaborative lecture theatres, and flexible spaces were being used by students outside of timetabled learning and again space utilisation of the such spaces are higher than traditional learning spaces.
At Swansea we have aspirational goals of increasing our student numbers significantly over the next 5-10 years, this increase I believe will lead to an even wider diversification of our students and this will have an impact not only on where we teach them but how they are taught. Combined with the fact that employers are looking at both soft skills as well as depth of knowledge as displayed in the T-shaped graduate (Nicholas Burwell mentions this in his presentation above) I believe we need to be considering collaborative lecture theatres for new buildings and the refurbishment of existing rooms. To help staff become familiar with this change in space and pedagogy investment in a learning lab which contains a similar type set up to that of the digital classroom so our staff can experience the space and way of learning that this type of room and technology can provide would be of great benefit. These changes to learning spaces will come at a price and it will require a change in the way some staff approach teaching but if we aspire to be a top 20 University they at least need to be explored further.