Some campus classrooms undergo changes for learning experiment

Jeffrey Joh/Staff
Classroom 127 Dwinelle is currently being converted into an ‘active learning classroom,’ whose purpose is to allow alternative teaching methods and student collaboration.

One of several UC Berkeley classrooms that are being converted into active learning classrooms, which would serve as “test kitchens” to try out new tools and techniques in classes, was completed last week and will now be available for use in the fall semester.

The project to transform two classrooms — 127 Dwinelle Hall and 340 Evans Hall — seeks to reshape the original layout of a classroom into one that engages in innovative modes of teaching for faculty and students and provides technology to enhance learning, according to Mara Hancock, director for educational technology.

The renovations began this summer as a project by the campus Educational Technology Services.

The new features of the classrooms include more flexible furniture, webcasting, plasma screens and huddleboards — whiteboards that are small enough to use for group work and that could be hung up and used for presentations.

These technologies would allow for collaborative activities and different teaching styles, the results of which would then be studied to see which tools worked and which did not, Hancock said.

According to Deborah Nolan, a campus professor of statistics, construction of 340 Evans was completed last week, and the classroom will be used in the fall by the department of statistics and CalTEACH.

Hancock said ETS hopes to have the other classroom open to select courses shortly after the semester begins.

According to Hancock, the idea for the project originated last summer after the Campus Committee on Classroom Policy and Management sponsored a report — of which Nolan was the chair — on active learning classrooms.

Following the results of the report, Hancock said, ETS found there were funds left over from money used for installing, maintaining and enhancing technology in classrooms and proposed to use the funds to create these classrooms and explore their functions, receiving support from the committee.

“We suggested that we go ahead and start utilizing these existing funds to test it out and explore what the issues might be with faculty in a controlled space,” Hancock said.

Though criteria for choosing which faculty and courses have access to the renovated classrooms are still being developed, ETS is interested in targeting faculty who would collaborate in developing the space and designing a course that allows students to become active learners, according to Hancock.

“We’ll work with them to define what they’re trying to achieve and how they’ll use the space to achieve their goals,” Hancock said.

Should the test classrooms go over well, Nolan said she hopes the campus can learn from the experiences and refurbish additional general assignment classrooms, stating that other universities, such as Stanford University, have already adopted these new methods.

“They’ve found that once they put in the active learning classrooms that the faculty demand has increased to use more of these classrooms,” Nolan said. “I think we’re all recognizing the way students learn is changing.”

Vice Provost of Teaching, Learning, Academic Planning and Facilities Catherine Koshland agreed with the project’s goal of experimenting with new technologies and modes of teaching.

“It is important for UC Berkeley to be deeply involved in defining and supporting the wide range of methods for teaching and learning in the 21st century … This project is representative of the (university’s) effort to build and cultivate a wider discussion around these topics,” Koshland said in an email.