Collaboration Curriculum: Managing Active Learning Environments

Collaboration Curriculum: Managing Active Learning Environments

Tech managers in higher education should plan to support more active learning environments.

A recent study conducted by EDUCAUSE found that a majority of undergraduates own two to three Internet-enabled devices, and the more of these devices they own, the more they’re inclined to see the advantages of applying technology to their education. For those tech managers that are still gunning against BYOD, this suggests—strongly—that they’re fighting a losing battle.

30 Vaddio cameras used in Elon University’s Elon School of Health Sciences in North Carolina foster peer and faculty engagement. Elon University illustrates the trend toward more active learning and collaborative environments. “It’s not only that folks are coming to campus with BYOD; now it’s Bring You Own Everything, really,” said Malcolm Brown, director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, a community of institutions working to advance higher education through technology. “The challenge is herding all of these cats, because now you have a proliferation of platforms and capabilities, and also: how do you take advantage of this in the teaching and learning space?” He urges colleges and universities to focus less on the negative effects of BYOD—students checking their email during lectures, for example—and more on the benefits it has to offer. “You can’t keep the network out of the classroom and you can’t keep these devices off campus. What you can do, obviously, is you can say, ‘for certain critical things we can support these sorts of devices and not those,’ and things like that. It is a bit of a challenge, but there are opportunities there, too, in terms of these devices as enablers and not just impediments.”

This is an especially important point for colleges and universities that are exploring active learning, which the University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning defines as students engaging in their studies “through reading, writing, talking, listening, and reflecting,” rather than more traditional forms of instruction, where the prof is the one who does most of the talking. Last summer, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative launched a beta version of its Learning Space Rating System, which is made up of close to 50 criteria upon which classroom design can be assessed for its readiness for active learning. The system is comparable to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED model, which is used to rate the level of sustainability and environmental friendliness in the construction process.

“The recognition that active learning is better for learning than a more passive learning mode— we’ve seen that begin to inform classroom design and classroom outfitting,” Brown said. “We’re seeing designs that are trying to anticipate, or build into them, active learning engagements.” He points to the increasing interest in mobile projection, which enables anyone with a capable device to project content to the entire class, as an example. “[It makes] the class more participatory—in a sense, more democratic—and is something, I think, that is representative of the direction in which things are going.”

When GateWay Community College in Phoenix, AZ, decided to build a new Integrated Education Building and remodel its Maricopa Skill Center campus, one of the goals was to equip classrooms with new technology that would allow students and faculty access to digital AV and HDCP content in a simple-to-use configuration. Kramer Electronics products were used widely in the deployments. Along the same lines, Gina Sansivero, director of FSR Inc., a manufacturer of collaboration tools, switchers, and control products headquartered in Woodland Park, N.J., has noticed a definite shift away from interactive learning through the use of interactive whiteboards, toward collaborative learning, which supports increased participation.“Where you have some sort of interactivity with an interactive whiteboard, you generally, more often than not, have one or two users up at that screen,” Sansivero said. “With collaboration, you have four, five, 10 users at a time able to work on a single project and then sharing that work with the other students, either within a classroom or on different parts of the continent, or the world in some cases, depending on how their distance learning is set up. Collaborative learning has really become a 'punch list item' for those higher ed. institutions; it’s something that they know they need if they don’t have it already.”

While David Gales, principal and director of California Operations at Waveguide Consulting Inc., an audiovisual and communication technology consulting group headquartered in Decatur, Ga., concedes that students expect technology to be part of the instruction and learning process—and that technologically advanced facilities will have a competitive advantage—he also believes that there will still be room for more traditional models. “There are some who say the physical campus is going to go away, or it will become greatly diminished. I really don’t see that happening,” he said. “I think these technologies that can educate people online without the physical campus or the physical presence of an instructor are valuable for a certain segment of the market, but not for everybody.” He cites a recent visioning project that he and his team conducted for a community college, which included interviews with students: “Quite a few students said, ‘Look, I don’t want all of this online, remote, flipped classroom stuff. I want to come to a class and I want a structured environment with a teacher teaching me.’ So there is a student population out there that needs the structure, that needs the social connections, that needs the resources of a physical campus, and I don’t think that’s going to go away.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

East Meets West

A fully equipped teaching and production facility for both students and the community at large, the newly opened 120,000 square foot Emerson College Los Angeles features a screening room, an audio/video mixing suite, classrooms, faculty offices, and a residence hall. Waveguide Consulting’s Los Angeles office headed up the design for the audiovisual and structured cabling systems. David Gales, principal and director of California Operations at the firm, explains that the concept of the “connected classroom” was relatively new to Emerson, which previously only had to contend with communications between the buildings on its main campus in Boston, MA. “Now that they’ve moved in and are operating here, they have their videoconferencing and distance learning classroom, and they use that to link to Boston,” he said. “They also do a lot of videoconferencing between Boston and L.A. on an administrative and operational level–– because their administrative and operational activities have been elevated to a much bigger scale, they use the connection for that.” —C.H.

Capital Conundrum

While technology generally needs to be upgraded every three to five years, the budgeting models that many colleges and universities apply don’t always accommodate this––especially when funding for these systems come from capital improvement projects, which are sometimes as long as 25 years apart.

“What happens is the technology gets old and starts to fail, and it becomes challenging to keep it up to date,” said David Gales, principal and director of California Operations at Waveguide Consulting Inc. What’s more, there is often a big difference between how advanced the technology is in one building on campus, versus the building next door. “And now you have this huge disparity between what was done five years ago and never updated, and what’s new in the latest building. The funding systems and the legacy organizations have not really evolved in a lot of institutions to keep up with what the new model needs to be.” —C.H.


FSR Inc.
Kramer Electronics
Waveguide Consulting Inc.

Carolyn Heinze has covered everything from AV/IT and business to cowboys and cowgirls ... and the horses they love. She was the Paris contributing editor for the pan-European site Running in Heels, providing news and views on fashion, culture, and the arts for her column, “France in Your Pants.” She has also contributed critiques of foreign cinema and French politics for the politico-literary site, The New Vulgate.