Grit McCreath (left) and Dean of the College of Education Michelle Prytula unveil plans for the Grit and Scott McCreath Active Learning Classroom. (Photo: GetMyPhoto.ca)

Education establishes Active Learning Classroom

Innovative and interactive, the Grit and Scott McCreath Active Learning Classroom will enrich concepts of teaching and learning in the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education.

The classroom features integrated media and technology, including interconnected digital displays, as well as moveable, flexible and accessible furniture. The setup of the classroom encourages a more interconnected relationship not only between student and teacher, but between students. Construction of the classroom—funded through a donation from the McCreaths, both alumni of the U of S—was announced Oct. 29.

“Research on student engagement and research in the scholarship of teaching and learning, identify that in order to maximize learning, students should be motivated to learn,” said Educational Administration Assistant Professor Vicki Squires. “The opportunity to engage in collaborative exploration of topics and to use a variety of tools and media to assist in problem-solving and inquiry-based learning should promote motivation and reflexive, deeper learning.”

So how exactly is an active learning classroom different from other classrooms? In an active learning classroom, students have increased access to technology allowing for investigation of ideas through the internet, using document sharing tools and interacting with technology. Moveable furniture allows for reconfiguration of the space to suit the specific learning activity, while multiple screens help students function individually or in a group.

In addition, the concept of a classroom having a front and a back does not exist, allowing each student equal access to their instructor and teaching resources. The students will also learn how to teach in this type of classroom.

“I’m most excited about the impact the space will have on our students,” said Associate Professor Jay Wilson, head of the Department of Curriculum Studies. “They will learn differently and take the innovation into their classrooms in the future. It will also give me a chance to experiment with new instructional approaches.”

Educational Administration graduate student Olga Ifaka took an interest in the project from the beginning. Conceptualized in 2017, the college held meetings to gain input from students, faculty and staff, with Ifaka one of those who took part. She believes the classroom will allow students to express creativity, participate in new ways of learning and sharing, and make the process of teaching and learning more engaging for faculty and students.

“I always like to know about the new ideas and innovations, so that is why I decided to attend the presentation,” said Ifaka. “The technologies are always developing and I feel it is great to make use of them. These ideas may be a great way to involve and engage students in the learning process, especially (younger) students who are great with new technologies. It will be a very comfortable and motivating place to study for them.”

Wilson agrees that students should be excited about the changes in the student-teacher dynamic.

“The classroom will allow for more student-centred learning, where groups of students can connect and socialize their learning,” said Wilson. “It will allow students to take control of lectures, seamlessly levelling the power balance that sometimes exists in post-secondary classrooms.”

Squires sees new teaching opportunities in the classroom, including inquiry-based projects and incorporating media into lessons and learning. She said faculty can now work to provide feedback to one group at a time or several groups, while the rest of the class works independently.

“Faculty and instructors can facilitate the learning by posing questions, identifying problems, and situating the content of the course within an inquiry-based model of exploration and discovery,” said Squires. “Although faculty and instructors have used the tools and information available to engage students in material previously, the physical layout of the classroom and the technology that is incorporated allow for more interdependent and more collaborative learning.”

The Active Learning Classroom is scheduled to be completed in January. The McCreaths will also be honoured for their ongoing support of the university Nov. 15 on National Philanthropy Day.

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