Oct 01 2019

Modern Classrooms Clear the Way for New Pedagogies in Higher Education

Technology-enabled learning spaces prompt faculty to reimagine their roles and share the spotlight.

Most higher education leaders recognize that today’s college experience isn’t what it used to be

Instructors in every discipline are rethinking both content and delivery, engaging students with new pedagogical strategies in modern learning spaces.

Yet as institutions invest in classroom technology, adoption doesn’t just happen. It requires institutional support, professional development and cross-campus collaboration.

EdTech magazine spoke with three experts about ways to facilitate a new dynamic in the classroom — one that lets students and teachers share the stage: Heather Haseley, co-executive director of the Learning Futures Collaboratory (formerly the Innovation Collaboratory) and lead design architect of next-generation learning at Arizona State University; Meggan Levitt, assistant vice provost and associate CIO for academic applications at the University of California, Davis; and Malcolm Brown, director of learning initiatives at EDUCAUSE.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out these four ways universities are using technology to change the higher education landscape.

EDTECH: Where are we today with ­classroom technology adoption?

BROWN: If you look at the past 15 to 20 years, there was a revolt against the traditional lecture hall — seats bolted down, all facing one way, students just taking notes. People like Bob Beichner from North Carolina State University and others came up with SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Program) rooms. These have circular tables and displays, so students can work on projects, plug in their laptops and share their screens. There was a great movement in this direction, but the gear is expensive. You can’t build a lot of these rooms. 

Now people like Maggie Beers at San Francisco State University are making the case that the key things that support active learning are wheeled furniture and writable surfaces

It’s a concept called learning-ready spaces. Now it’s coming back to a middle point of “Let’s get a variety of classroom types.”


LEVITT: We see a lot of classroom technology adoption in the early undergraduate space. It’s helping to solve issues of engagement in large classes. There is still room for figuring out its application in higher-level courses and thinking through how we work technology into lab environments.

HASELEY: The challenge is getting ­people to see that teaching is a challenge because people have taught the same way for a long time. If it worked in the past, it will work in the future. Why change?

We are moving away from that and moving toward student-centered learning and learning experience design. It’s a shift from “the sage on the stage” to focusing on the students’ perspectives. 

EDTECH: What challenges do colleges face related to ­classroom technology?

LEVITT: From a student perspective, it’s the wireless infrastructure. Students bring more than one device, so you have bandwidth issues. Faculty increasingly wants to do more active-learning activities and use technology. But if you have a large class of 300 students getting on the same handful of access points, that is an inhibitor.

As it relates to issues of inequity, who is bringing devices to campus? Some students have devices and some don’t. Not only that, if faculty members use a particular tool in class, such as an online discussion board where students have to engage with a vendor separately, then it needs to be identified as course material for students to be able to use financial aid to pay for it.

BROWN: Cost is always going to be a factor. Classrooms are an expensive infrastructure. All classrooms need some sort of projector in them. 

They need Wi-Fi. They need a controller board for changing the lighting setting and raising screens and controlling other technologies. You need staff that knows how to implement and maintain it.

HASELEY: One of the largest challenges is resistance to change. People often see it as another thing in their workload. 

The other challenge is faculty and students are often not incorporated in the technology selection process

Or a particular faculty member is outspoken, and then the technology gets scaled without questioning its applicability to other things. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how universities are addressing students blocking up bandwidth with entertainment streaming services.

EDTECH: How can campus leaders ensure that classroom investments pay off?

HASELEY: Often, when the demand for technology comes from students, faculty will react better than if they are told from above to do something. I believe faculty want to be great teachers and do the best for their students. If students say, “We love this and it helps our learning,” faculty are more likely to listen. 

BROWN: You invest in developing your faculty so that you enable them to learn about various pedagogical designs and learning engagement strategies and approaches. That will make the most of these types of rooms. 

Malcolm Brown

Levitt: We constantly check in with faculty — doing classroom surveys, figuring out what is working, getting input on new builds — because we will do another build in the future and want to see what is working. We are in the business of education, so we are constantly learning from the process.

You also have to think about building processes that inform the faculty. For example, with the wireless issue, it’s fabulous if they want to use clicker technology. But explain the limitations, so they know they shouldn’t use it for high-stakes testing. Use it for quizzing, engagement and making sure people come prepared for class

There could be some technical failure with somebody’s device. If you don’t want to deal with every minor issue, you can just drop the lowest quiz score. There are strategies for dealing with potential limitations. 

EDTECH: What is the best way to support ­faculty?

BROWN: It’s a collaborative process. Instructional designers play a linchpin role in this because most faculty don’t have the background in educational psychology and learning science. When faculty combines their content expertise with an instructional designer’s expertise, that is a winning combination.

HASELEY: When I was at Northwestern University, we created the Educational Technology Teaching Fellows. We had faculty apply for projects that they were interested in doing. 

For a year, 20 to 30 faculty became part of a community of practice, paired with a consultant who was a learning designer. They would have regular meetings with other faculty to talk about challenges, what technologies they used, how it was going and how they were designing it. It created a support system and a faculty-to-faculty community of practice.

Today, we always lead with, “What problem are you trying to solve?”

LEVITT: Faculty learns from faculty. You find your faculty champions and they will go out and sell it for you. In my unit and in our academic technology service, we have a forum every month where faculty talk about how they are using technology. 

If you build a coalition of the willing that can share with those who are interested, that’s where you get the growth. As IT professionals, we should catalyze the connections and not force ourselves on them as the experts. Help them learn from each other.

It’s building learning communities on campus, but also working with our Center of Educational Effectiveness. This is a common resource at universities. Specialists help faculty with pedagogy and help them learn how to teach and use analytics. As we reach certain populations, are students performing on certain academic paths? It helps leadership make decisions around effective teaching on campus.

From an IT perspective, you have to partner with these centers. Through one-on-one consultations, they show faculty what tools are available and get them interested in new ways of teaching. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Here are three ways to use technology to create a student roadmap for success.

EDTECH: What types of classroom technology do students expect today?

LEVITT: We have a lot of presentation technology, screens and projectors. We also have lecture capture. Cameras are controlled remotely by students who record lectures that will automatically appear in their learning management system. Students can go back and review things they missed in class. This is especially important for students who use English as a second language. We also have high adoption of the LMS, with quizzing, assignments and discussions happening on it. 

BROWN: One of the more interesting developments is wireless participation. The early classrooms had a podium, and the lectern was privileged. 

If you wanted to show something on the screen, you had to be at the panel and plugged in to show it. Now there are wireless options to access the projector. At any moment, students can become the presenter. Roles are flexible. It’s democratizing and allows people to participate more actively. 

Meggan Levitt

HASELEY: Students, like all of us, want technology that makes their lives easier. They want to use technology they already use. Students are doing more peer-to-peer work. They want to connect to their peers and do group work. 

EDTECH: Classroom technology places an additional burden on IT staff. How should we address this issue?

BROWN: Most institutions have technicians who support classroom technology. More and more, the componentry of these tools is accessible online. They can log in to the projector and sometimes troubleshoot from a distance.

Sometimes faculty get what I call a flat tire in a room. The projector screen doesn’t want to lower, for example. The classroom has what I call a Batphone. Faculty can call and ask a technician to come and troubleshoot, but it usually causes a five- to 10-minute delay, so you are losing valuable classroom time.

LEVITT: At UC Davis, we have a help desk, but it runs on university hours. You can make arrangements so faculty can connect to vendors directly. We also have three support professionals that faculty can have an appointment with if they want to work through issues. 

HASELEY: At ASU, we use a lot of students for classroom tech support. That’s a great way to scale.


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