Active Learning Classrooms ALCs Set For Spring Rollout at UTSA

July 14, 2016

by Nicole Duff at 1:06 PM in Campus Community, News, Staff News, Interesting


(A mock-up of one of the Active Learning Classrooms)


By spring 2017, UTSA students and faculty will be introduced to an innovative kind of classroom - active learning classrooms (ALCs). Currently in initial phases of development, this initiative is spearheaded by the UTSA Office of Learning Technologies. It involves redesigning the structure and appearance of traditional learning spaces in order to improve student success.


"The purpose of redesigning classrooms is to get students more engaged in the subject matter by providing resources to help faculty lead their classes through questions and discussion rather than lecture," said Joe Tobares, Director of Learning Technologies.


ALCs are becoming increasingly popular among higher education institutions across the U.S., including Penn State, one of UTSA's aspirant universities. Research, such as that conducted through the SCALE-UP Project at North Carolina State University, provides support for this shift in learning environments. Slated for construction at UTSA by next April, these redesigned classrooms will contain specific features, which will help foster student engagement.


Some of these features include flexible furniture as well as user-friendly technology, both strategically spaced throughout the classrooms to encourage collaboration between students. In addition, these classrooms will maximize whiteboard spaces to ensure that they are accessible to students and free from blockage by technology or furniture. By deviating from the layout of traditional classrooms, ALCs will help lead to a more hands-on learning experience for students in math, science, communications, and other fields.


"Students will feel more involved with classes and have a better understanding of what the objective is for each class," Tobares explained. "Bringing them together and creating that community in the classroom, we're hoping, will help improve student performance and persistence and increase graduation rates."


This initiative, which derived from the second phase of classroom upgrades underway at UTSA, was started six months ago. Since then, Tobares and his team have collaborated with the UTSA Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars (ADTS), a group of highly-respected faculty who play an integral role in providing guidance on this project. In addition, they have partnered with university architects and various interior designers to help coordinate the redesigning process.


Last March, an Active Learning Committee was created to discuss plans for this project. This committee, which meets once a month, also comprises members of other UTSA offices including the Office of Facilities and ADTS.


This fall, the committee will hold a town hall forum for faculty members to discuss some of the changes that would arise from the new ALCs. Three months following the forum, a learning playground will be hosted to enable faculty and students to experience the visual and tactile elements of the ALCs and more importantly, to vote on various elements. Following this, the actual redesign process will begin.


"The idea is to build two classrooms, which are different from each other and those will be models for future developments," Tobares explained. "Faculty will apply to teach in these spaces, and feedback from them and students will help us modify the classrooms."


With the generally positive reviews that active learning classrooms have received at other universities, it will be interesting to see whether these classrooms will serve as the future of classroom teaching here at UTSA.


"I anticipate us building more classrooms similar to this as we find out how effective these spaces are," said Tobares. "Once we understand the scope of everything involved in this type of transformation, I see it becoming more of a standard further down the line than the lecture-style classroom we have today."



For more information about this project, faculty should be on the lookout for an invitation to a Town Hall meeting which will be held in late September.