Classrooms for Active Learning

In December of 2013, The Special Committee on Classroom Design published a report outlining “traditional and emerging modalities of learning on campus.” The nine-member Committee, chaired by Mung Chiang, Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering, offered five recommendations for the classroom design process:

  • Implement more user-friendly technologies in classrooms
  • Involve faculty and students in the classroom design process
  • Create better tools for finding active classrooms, scheduling them and providing feedback on their functionality
  • Create more flexible, reconfigurable spaces for active learning on campus;
  • Establish “classrooms outside of classrooms,” or, alternative, non-traditional learning areas in proximity to existing teaching spaces.

All of these recommendations relate in some way to making spaces for active learning at Princeton more common and accessible.

Active Learning is defined in the Committee’s report in this way:

In its simplest definition, active learning seeks to amplify student participation and involvement in his or her own learning experience. Since the 1980s, an extensive body of research on college teaching has convincingly demonstrated that students are more creative, engage more, and retain that learning longer when faculty deploy more learner-centered teaching methods . . . As educational pedagogy changes, our campus classroom design process can further these goals.

The McGraw Center was given a special charge in the report of the Special Committee: to experiment with, train in the use of, and seek feedback on active learning spaces and best practices. The Center has been taking that charge seriously.

We are currently working to assemble and curate resources for faculty and instructors interested in trying active learning, including these reviews of the literature and recent research exploring the efficacy of active learning pedagogy as it matures in practice.   Other resources include technology tools to encourage active learninglocating a suitable classroom for new pedagogies and from the University of Minnesota  tutorials about active learning and locating a suitable classroom for new pedagogies. We have also developed a video gallery showcasing examples of how a Princeton classroom can be used for active learning.  

In addition, we have worked with the Office of Design and Construction to develop four flexible classrooms suited for active learning: The McGraw Teaching Lab in 330 Frist; The McGraw Classroom in East Pyne 012; The McGraw Digital Learning Lab in Lewis 130; and forthcoming classroom in 303 Frist.   To locate and reserve an active learning enabled classroom use this search tool on the Registrar’s site.

In the academic year 2016/17, The McGraw Center will convene a group of faculty experienced in active learning, and those interested in learning more about it, with the aim of meeting to share thoughts and strategies. To join this group, please contact the Center.