Center for Educational Innovation

Academic Affairs and Provost

Student vs. Instructor Classroom

Students in an Active Learning Classroom (ALC) are likely to enter a learning environment that is very different from ones they may have encountered before. Not only is the physical setting different; when used well, an ALC can present an approach to teaching and learning that flies in the face of students' previous experience.

ALC spaces are designed to encourage teamwork and cooperation among students (a "student-centered approach"), which may represent a paradigm shift from the information delivery model (instructor-centered approach) common in many classrooms. Many instructors working in more traditional classrooms have adopted a student-centered model of teaching and learning; the ALC environment simply provides many affordances that make such an approach easier to implement.

The following table summarizes the differences between students in information delivery-based classrooms (instructor-centered) and collaborative, student-centered classrooms such as ALCs:

Instructor-Centered Classroom   Student-Centered Classroom
  students shift from . . .       to . . .
Listener, observer, and note taker Active problem solver, contributor, and discussant
Low or moderate expectations of preparation for class High expectations of preparation for class
Private presence in the classroom with few or no risks Public presence with many risks
Attendance dictated by personal choice Attendance dictated by community expectation
Competition with peers Collaborative work with peers
Responsibilities and self-definition associated with learning independently Responsibilities and self-definition associated with learning interdependently
Viewing teachers and texts as the sole sources of authority and knowledge Viewing peers, self, and the community as additional and important sources of authority and knowledge

Table adapted from MacGregor, J. (1990). Collaborative learning: Shared inquiry as a process of reform. In M.D. Svinicki (Ed.), The changing face of college teaching (pp. 19-30). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 42. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Available at

The shifts described in the table above suggest changes in the way faculty might approach instruction in Active Learning Classrooms. They also suggest the necessity of preparing students to be active participants in their own learning if such pedagogical approaches are being used.

We recommend that faculty explain to students why they're using a particular pedagogical approach. If they've chosen to use interactive lecturing strategies or team-based problem solving, for instance, instructors should inform students how such activities are likely to improve their learning.

Instructors teaching in ALCs should also take the opportunity to reevaluate their classroom methods to see how interactive lecturing or collaborative learning can be incorporated. ALCs provide an opportunity for faculty to revisit their courses and to develop new, more engaging ways of teaching. A semester in an ALC can be a chance to think deeply and critically about your teaching and your students' learning.

For tips on teaching strategies that you can use in ALCs, please see the section titled Considerations for Teaching in Active Learning Classrooms.

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