May 01 2012

California State University, Fresno Expands Collaborative Learning

By posting lectures online prior to class, professors will shift the class-time focus to problem-solving and group work.

At California State University, Fresno, rolling out smart classrooms is changing the way learning happens. The university plans to have a collaboration classroom in its math and science department ready this spring, and a second collaboration classroom in the education department is scheduled for completion this summer.

The collaboration classroom will consist of small pods of students sitting at reconfigurable tables and chairs. Each pod will have electronic outlets for student notebook computers, as well as Internet access and a quick connection to a screen located at each pod, linking to the classroom projector. The professor can select and display table-specific information for the entire class to view.

“The instructor will not traditionally stand in front of the room and lecture,” says Randy Mills, Fresno State’s broadcast engineer. “The general idea of these collaboration classrooms is that the students work on their own and together in small groups. They work on projects or whatever, and then they can present them to the class.”

This collaborative classroom will mesh well with the teaching style of Brent Auernheimer, professor of computer science and senior adviser for academic technology at Fresno State. He likes to record his best 10 minutes on a subject and post it online for his students to preview before coming to class. Having the lecture online is especially helpful for students who don’t speak English as a first language because they can watch it multiple times, he adds.

Class time is spent on problem-solving and small group work, as opposed to a full lecture. “It makes it into a much more interactive learning experience,” Auernheimer says.

“Instead of sitting in a little classroom where you can’t get to the outside world, you can have your discussions and you have all that equipment right there,” Auernheimer says. “So if you need to, you can look at artwork or videos that are related to the conversation you are having right there at that time.”

The idea for the collaborative classroom comes from research done at the University of Minnesota on increasing student achievement in physics. Since 2010, UMN has had 10 active-learning classrooms available for science and math students.

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