How one innovative college uses technology to energize active learning
Posted byLavonne Boutcher on Apr 25, 2018 6:00:00 AM
Physics professor and pedagogical researcher Chris Whittaker is a firm believer in the power of active learning. He’s read and contributed to the academic research, weighed the evidence and seen the results in his own classroom. “Students are getting to much deeper levels of conversation in my classes, asking me much more profound questions and engaging with the material in a way that I’ve never seen before,” says Chris, who teaches at Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Chris started to experiment with student-centered teaching techniques more than a decade ago. Since then, interest has grown among many of his colleagues who are now using interactive technology tools to take active learning in exciting new directions.
Giving students tools to construct knowledge
One of the key lessons Dawson College has learned over the years is that student-focused instruction works best when it’s supported by the right space and technology. Room design has to encourage collaboration, and technology tools have to make it easy for students to work together to construct knowledge, since that’s the essence of what active learning is all about.
So, when the college started developing spaces for active learning, the guiding principle was to find interactive tools that would enhance both teaching and learning.“We felt that if you’re really going to buy into the whole student-centered approach to education, why would you keep the most powerful learning tool in the hands of the teacher?” says Chris.
The active learning spaces at Dawson include a handful of low-tech rooms that have whiteboards and other writable surfaces on the walls and large tables where students can do group work.
Also, three high-tech classrooms are each equipped with multiple interactive touch surfaces. Two of those are existing rooms that contain seven interactive whiteboards each. The third and newest classroom enhances students’ interactive experience with eight Nureva™ Walls that provide a total of 56' (17.06 m) of digital workspace. This unique configuration is powered by Span™ Workspace and is the world’s largest installation of Nureva visual collaboration solutions in a single classroom.
Adding a new dimension to collaboration
Putting multiple interactive surfaces in one room means individual student groups have their own shared workspace, which improves the quality of their collaboration, says Dr. Elizabeth Charles, a Dawson faculty member who heads the SALTISE inter-institutional research team studying techno-pedagogical innovations. “We believe it’s important that students have large shared learning spaces where they can show and draw representations of what they’re thinking and understanding.”
The Nureva Wall gives students “space to think” and room to view everything together so it’s easier to make connections, says Elizabeth. She believes this encourages the kind of collaborative conversations that result in deeper learning.
With the eight Nureva Walls linked, the expansive interactive space stretches across multiple walls, giving students a complete view of large amounts of information. With this continuous surface, student groups can collaborate, view each other’s work and see how their thinking differs from their classmates. “As a teacher, you can create an environment that your students can immerse themselves in,” says Elizabeth, who is looking forward to studying how this new immersive environment shapes and enhances the collaboration experience.
The Nureva products are also bringing a new level of interactivity to student collaboration. “We’re starting to understand how far an interactive touch surface can go,” says Chris. He especially likes how the technology enhances activities like brainstorming, creating timelines and developing concept maps. Students can work in small groups, put their information and ideas up on the digital canvas using their tablets or smartphones and then work together at the interactive wall to arrange and connect the information in different ways. “I think that’s magical,” he says.
Taking student engagement in new directions
As interest in active learning continues to grow at Dawson College, so does student engagement. “We’re engaging our students in the classroom much more meaningfully than we have in the past,” says Chris.
He expects that momentum to continue as more professors see how technology tools like the Nureva Wall can open up new and exciting possibilities to get their students more involved in learning. “Some of our professors who have been in the interactive whiteboard high-tech rooms for years have just been blown away by what they can now do in the new Nureva room.”
New active learning solutions
Find out more about the technology tools that are helping students at Dawson College take their learning deeper.