University of Amsterdam - Active learning spaces
Since 2012, the UvA has regularly experimented with innovation in teaching spaces. In all experiments, the emphasis is on supporting active learning, a movement that has emerged in higher education since the beginning of the century, and which is based more on student-centred concepts.
It involves interaction between students, interaction between groups, and interaction between teacher and student.
Organisation and management
At the UvA, almost all teaching rooms are managed by the facilities department Bureau Onderwijs Logistiek (BOL). A large number of the projects described here have been realised by them. For the development of a new room, we have identified the following lessons learned:
- It is important to develop new innovative classrooms in consultation with lecturers (and possibly students).
- It is advisable to use a pilot period to gain experience. During this period, it is a good idea to conduct regular evaluations among students and lecturers in order to fine-tune the hall in detail.
- It is important that there is a central point where all information and experiences of the various projects/initiatives come together in order to avoid reinventing the wheel for every project.
The management of the halls is centralised at the UvA. Most of these unique rooms can be requested by all lecturers. The UvA timetabling system works on the basis of 'numbers of participants' and, for example, 'workgroup room' and is not based on the teaching concept that the lecturer wants to use. The disadvantage of this is that lecturers come into this room expecting a traditional U-shape, for example, and start dragging tables around or are dissatisfied with the technology, which deviates somewhat from the standard. The timetabling system will therefore have to be adapted, so that it is clear which teaching concept the lecturer wants to use and that they are then allocated the right room (as is already the case at Delft University of Technology).
In all new UvA rooms, the AV support of BOL provided additional information to familiarise lecturers with the new facilities. Unfortunately, only limited use was made of this. Despite direct mailings and a flexible offer. This is despite the fact that it is necessary for lecturers to be familiar in advance with the newer AV/IT facilities that are present in such rooms. Of course, it must be user-friendly, but this aspect will require extra attention in the coming period.
In each initiative, attention was paid to internal communication. In the first project, this was more extensive than in the later versions of the cooperation rooms. Various presentations and visiting opportunities were arranged, and meetings were deliberately planned for those involved in the educational process. Presentations were given during meetings in the context of Blended Learning or IT and Education, for example. Internal communication also took place via digital channels (websites, newsletter). It turned out that additional communication to the target groups at the start of a new hall is indispensable. But you will also have to keep communicating in a later phase. An overview of available 'special' rooms on a central institution-wide website works well (as at Mc Gill University). Include visual material and an explanation of the possibilities, as well as some best practices from lecturers.
In almost all projects, an attempt was made to support instructors with the AV and the didactics. Faculty IT and Education Support staff have been involved in this. In practice, however, it proved difficult to reach the lecturers and provide them with sufficient support in using these innovative rooms. A number of Educational Sciences students have made observations in these types of rooms and their research shows that it is important to provide educational advice/support to the lecturers. The following lessons were formulated from the experiences:
- Experience shows that innovative halls require more support in the beginning.
- The support should be a collaboration of the AV and IT support as well as the IT and educational and didactic support.
- It is desirable for instructors to have a single point of contact for support.
- It is recommended that regular educational evaluations be carried out in this type of room in order to get a handle on how lecturers can be supported and to identify points for improvement for the rooms.
Realising innovative educational spaces is more than just fitting out a room with flexible furniture and new AV and IT technology. It requires a joint effort by several departments within the institution where sometimes standard procedures have to be adjusted. Taking the education, both teachers and students, with you demands a great deal of effort from IT and R&D advisors and didactic support staff, among others. It also requires extra effort from lecturers to "convert" education to more active learning; temporary support with student assistants could alleviate this extra temporary workload.
Read more about UvA's active learning classrooms (PDF, in Dutch).