When Active Learning comes up, the focus is usually on implementing technology in the classroom, but there’s more to it.

What is Active Learning?

Active Learning (AL) is often part of our audiovisual design and acoustical consulting conversations, be it university or K-12 education. It’s more than technology. Rather, it’s an interactive teaching and learning approach to involve student participation in the classroom (or distance learning) through thinking and activity. The goal is for students to build an understanding of how they think and learn. Collaboration and team-based learning (TBL) is also a key component. TBL has greater adoption in medical education, whereas AL is the more common term in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.

What Makes up an Active Learning Classroom?

Active learning classrooms are organized around knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) – the three learning domains. Instead of passive listening, students read, write, discuss, and engage in problem-solving. Teams or individuals have an assigned activity, with defined outcomes and a follow-up. Technology is often involved in the lessons, but as a tool to accomplish a goal, as opposed to a learning method in itself. The room and furniture layout, as well as the acoustics are important to active learning pedagogy. Computer and AV hardware, workstations, seating options, and sound reinforcement facilitate a well-thought-out and constructed active learning curriculum.

Technologies for Active Learning

Many institutions have built active learning (AL) classrooms, labs and lecture halls. Most of these have followed the earliest research and planning done at MIT for the TEAL (technology enhanced active learning) space. Typically, the group work locations have seating for 4-8 or more, with a display and inputs for laptops and other sources. An instructor system has a display for instructor content and sources. The instructor can selectively pull content from student groups and push to the room or specific groups. This facilitates sharing and collaboration.

The High Cost Challenge

As exciting as it can be to imagine an Active Learning Classroom, implementing the systems can come at too great a cost (anywhere from $40k-100k+) for them to be practical. Likewise, some schools or designers focus on quickly-changing technology, rather than developing a curriculum supported by systems, and an infrastructure designed to support potential systems.

Practical Solutions

By working closely with the design team, faculty, and student focus groups, we can arrive at a general intent for future applications of active learning, and determine what the potential classroom format might be. Then, we use this intent to plan the infrastructure to serve these future applications. The day-one space is equipped as a standard classroom. When the school is ready to deploy AL/TBL the room will be ready, without the need for costly demolition/renovation and associated IT costs. Further, as the price for these technologies drop over time, and Wi-Fi networks and software solutions are more available, even the infrastructure we plan today can scale back from what would be required now.

Erik J Geiger

Erik J Geiger, CTS-D, is ABD's Director of Audiovisual, and an Audiovisual consultant in Portland, Oregon. He has designed and consulted on audio, video, and conference systems for over 20 years. Erik studied Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin, and Audio Recording and Production, at the Musicians Technical Training Institute. He has served as an Audiovisual discipline leader and project manager, and carries a wealth of technical system consulting and design experience. Erik brings the heart of a teacher to every project, helping clients and end-users to understand a rapidly changing environment. When Erik isn’t designing audiovisual systems, he enjoys playing the piano, backpacking, cycling, and photography.

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