UMN Research on ALC

Learning Spaces Research 

Since August 2007, the research and evaluation team at the Center for Educational Innovation has been engaged in an ongoing research project centered on new, technology-enhanced learning spaces called Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs). This project seeks to determine to what extent new learning spaces shape teaching and learning practices, student and instructor perceptions, and student learning outcomes.

Findings: University of Minnesota

i. Pilot phase: Student and faculty reactions

Early results showed positive responses to the ALCs from students and faculty. These reactions included an overall enhancement of the student learning experience, a reduction in perceived psychological distance between instructor and students and among students, and praise for the role of the round tables in the ALCs.  

ii. Comparison studies: Student learning outcomes and faculty behavior

Two controlled quasi-experimental studies were conducted in order to examine the contribution of ALCs to students’ academic engagement and learning outcomes. In these studies, faculty members taught two sections of the same class, one in a traditional classroom and one in an ALC, using the same syllabus, materials, instructional methods, and assessments. Findings from both studies indicated that, after controlling for all relevant demographic and aptitude-related variables, the ALCs improved students’ engagement in the learning process; helped students to outperform final grade expectations, resulting in improved learning outcomes; and affected teaching-learning activities even when the instructor attempted to hold these activities constant. 

ALC Research Graph
A third comparison study investigated the question whether the type of pedagogy used in the ALCs matters to student learning. In this study, a faculty member taught the same course twice in an ALC, using the same syllabus, materials, and assessments. The first iteration of the class was largely expository and lecture-based, while the second iteration the instructor took advantage of the room's layout and technology by incorporating more active learning techniques into the class. After controlling for numerous demographic variables, students in the second iteration of the course were found to have outperformed those in the first.

iii. Current research: Mechanisms and Moderators, or How ALCs Work

If newly configured, technology-enhanced classrooms do have a variety of good effects on teaching and learning, a natural next question has to do with mechanisms. How, or in virtue of what, do new learning spaces have the effects they do? Under what conditions will the impact of new learning spaces be enhanced or mitigated? 

  • Seat time: One recent study examined the effect of reducing the seat time of a large lecture chemistry class by two-thirds and conducting it in an ALC rather than a traditional amphitheater. To account for the reduced lecture time, didactic content was recorded and posted online for viewing outside of the classroom. ALC students achieved learning outcomes that were at least as good, and in one comparison significantly better than, those in a traditional classroom, while student perceptions of the learning environment were improved, suggesting that quantity of seat time is not what matters, pedagogically speaking. 
  • Social context: Anecdotal evidence suggests that classroom social context, or the network of relationships in a classroom, is different in ALCs than in traditional classrooms. An ongoing study has produced a validated measure of social context that is composed of four dimensions: student-student relations, student-instructor relations, students acting as instructors, and student self-efficacy. Initial tests indicate that at least some of these dimensions are significantly associated with student learning outcomes, and that certain student sub-populations -- in particular females, non-white students, low-ACT students, and freshmen -- may benefit from strong social context more than other students. ns, in fact he behaved quite differently in the different classrooms, lecturing significantly more in the traditional room and conducting discussion significantly more in the ALC.

Find links to articles and project reports at http://www.classroom.umn.edu/projects/alc.html​

What Students Say

It's been interesting. I have 3 classes in there and each one uses the room in a different way. The one thing about this room that I noticed most is that it seems to break down the traditional learning environment. That is, the professor and the students almost equally share authority especially with regard to digital environments.

I think the classroom is a different approach that appeals to a wider variety of learning styles than a standard lecture does.

I really like the technology and the availability of the professors for asking questions. You can be face to face during class and you don't have to yell across a lecture hall. The technology allows us to easily get information and aids us in our learning.

I was able to talk without being dominated by my loud classmates at other tables.

I love it! I actually like going to my biology lecture. And I don't feel like falling asleep (as I do in other lectures). I definitely think it has increased my interest in the class and the subject.

The active learning classroom is a great learning tool. It is perfect for working in groups.