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Redesigning the class to Increase Student Involvement

A book review by Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya Aneece

When is it time for a radical change? After various small improvements but the same comments of the course being too much work and not providing students with applicable skills, it was time to do something different. This semester, I flipped the classroom and redesigned assessments to address larger learning goals; students are now more engaged and produce higher quality work. This approach allows students to view and review material at a pace and location convenient for them, and allows teachers to use class time to provide personal instruction, facilitate student interaction with content, assess student learning, and garner participation from a larger majority of the class (Talley and Scherer 2013, Gullen and Zimmerman 2013, Sams and Bergmann 2013).

Along with flipping the classroom I am teaching in an active learning center next semester. This center facilitates group work because desks are arranged to facilitate group discussion, the professor is able to easily walk among and interact with students, and there are multiple screens and whiteboards/ chalkboards around the room. Several universities have active learning centers including the University of Minnesota (Regents of the University of Minnesota 2009, Regents of the University of Minnesota 2013), UC Berkeley (UC Regents 2009), Indiana University (Trustees of the Indiana University 2011), and University of Washington (University of Washington Libraries 2014). These spaces help students feel relaxed, promote deep learning, increase interactions with peers and instructors, and promote active student engagement and accountability in their own and their team’s learning (Regents of the University of Minnesota 2009, Trustees of Boston University 2014, Miglio et al. 2012). Due to a flexible and accommodating floor plan, the active learning classroom facilitates flexible teaching styles: collaborative, problem-based, and project-based learning (Miglio et al. 2012).

One other innovative teaching style that can be accommodated by active learning classrooms is inquiry-based learning, which allows students to have personal experiences with concepts and put learning into context for themselves and pre-existing knowledge, as well as encouraging active participation in their own learning (Edelson et al. 1999). This allows students to practice investigatory abilities (defining the question, investigating possibilities, and presenting results), along with understanding basic concepts (Edelson et al. 1999). Technology can assist inquiry-based learning by increasing interest and motivation, providing access to information, and providing the support needed for storing, analyzing, and presenting information (Edelson et al. 1999).

Thus, there are several innovative techniques now being implemented to use technology in a way that will enhance student participation and promote significant learning. However, these techniques can only be successfully implemented in a supportive environment where teachers have encouragement, resources, and logistical support, and where students have a guided learning experience that motivates them, encourages participation, and provides them with the skills needed for this higher level of learning. This environment takes time and effort to develop but the benefits to student learning can be substantial.

Edelson, D., Gordin, D., and R. Pea. 1999. Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8: (3/4): 391-450.

Gullen, K., and H. Zimmerman. 2013. Saving time with technology. Educational Leadership, 70 (6): 63-66.

Miglio, A., Farmer, B., Gaiser, G., Chan, K., Ray, M., McGrath, O., and T. Gotch. 2012. Room 127 Dwinelle Hall test kitchen: First year review. UC Berkeley Educational Technology Services.

Sams, A., and J. Bergmann. 2013. Flip your students’ learning. Educational Leadership, 70 (6): 16-20.

Talley, C.P. and S. Scherer. 2013. The enhanced flipped classroom: Increasing academic performance with student-recorded lectures and practice testing in a “flipped” STEM course. The Journal of Negro Education, 82 (3): 339-347.

Trustees of Boston University. 2014. Here & Now: Active learning classrooms break the mold. 90.9wbur Boston’s NPR news station. Accessed at <>.

Trustees of the Indiana University, The. 2011. Center for innovative teaching and learning, Active learning classrooms. Indiana University, Bloomington. Accessed at <>.

Regents of the University of Minnesota. 2009. Office of classroom management: Office of undergraduate education, Active learning classroom (ALC). University of Minnesota. Accessed at <>.

Regents of the University of Minnesota. 2013. Center for teaching and learning, Active learning classrooms. University of Minnesota. Accessed at <>.

UC Regents. 2009. Educational Teaching Services: Active learning classrooms. Accessed at <>.

University of Washington Libraries. 2014. University of Washington: Active learning classrooms (ALC). University Libraries. Accessed at <>.

Itiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.


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