UW Information Technology

Activating Teaching and Learning

Professor Nicole McNichols

Psychology Lecturer Nicole McNichols’ creative use of Odegaard’s Active Learning Classrooms helps provide a richer learning experience for students.

At Odegaard Undergraduate Library, two innovative classrooms are combining creative spaces with technology to put students at the very center of teaching and learning.

They’re known as Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs), where round tables for up to nine students allow for close interaction and collaboration—with flexible seating, computer stations and glass walls for scribbling notes. Rather than promoting passive reception of information, ALCs encourage students and professors to be actively engaged.

In their first full year, the ALCs have earned rave reviews in disciplines ranging from Chinese to Psychology. They’re popular for studying even when classes aren’t in session.

“They’re not called Active Learning Classes for nothing,” said Psychology Lecturer Nicole McNichols. “They promote activities, invite questions and encourage problem solving. The focus on groups means instead of being one of a hundred students, you’re one of maybe five. And the technology makes it easy for the instructor to keep track of everything and share it effectively with the group.” This change from passive to active learning produces results. According to McNichols, the National Academy of Sciences has found that active learning raises average student exam grades by half a letter, and reduces failure rates by more than 50 percent.

The ALCs are supported and managed through a partnership between UW Libraries and UW-IT’s Classroom Technology & Events (CTE) and Learning Technologies.

“For the ALCs to be successful, it was important to balance technology and pedagogy,” said Amanda Hornby, Odegaard’s Teaching & Learning Program Librarian.

“CTE has incredible expertise in technology, classroom design and faculty needs. Libraries are experts at facilitating informal learning and peer-group work,” Hornby said. “Together, we’ve made great progress in defining best practices to promote innovative teaching and learning in the spaces.”

The collaboration has paid off. “Our hope was the first two rooms would be a catalyst for more. And it’s working out that way,” said Roberta Hopkins, CTE’s Director. “More and more faculty are learning about them, trying them out and wanting to teach in them.”

Plans include a new ALC and technology upgrades to classrooms in Denny Hall, the UW’s first building. And under a multi-year project launched by UW-IT, other UW Seattle classrooms are getting major technology upgrades.

CTE has finished work on 36 classrooms and will complete 37 more by next summer. The work will continue through 2021, guided by a Provost-appointed task force.

“To me, the ALCs are learning playgrounds,” McNichols said. “Students feel empowered, like they’re getting more out of their time in the classroom. The quality of work being produced is amazing. The ALCs are taking their learning to a whole new level.”

Originally published in the UW Information Technology 2014 Annual Report. View our Annual Reports archive.