So much has changed in the delivery of higher education over the last few years. Gone are the days when the emphasis was on the academic content of the course with little thought given to the emotional needs of students or the learning environment. Now it is widely recognised that both elements make a significant difference in learning outcomes.
In the last few years, universities have focused more attention on building active learning environments for students. An active learning environment provides positive benefits for students and for lecturers. As far back as 1990, D J MacAulay was advocating that classrooms should be structured to allow teachers to address the academic, social and emotional needs of students.
Over the last few years, academic institutions have experimented with changes in the design of physical space to accommodate these needs. They’ve changed room layouts to improve the interaction between students and increased the use of whiteboards and screens. But exciting developments in technology have created even more opportunities to transform classroom spaces into highly collaborative and inclusive environments for students.
The use of interactive whiteboards such as the Span Wall makes it easier to see and share material from anywhere in the room
Research has shown that when students are actively engaged in activities that reinforce learning and when they work in groups, checking their understanding, sharing and building on ideas, it enriches their understanding of a subject. It also leads them to ask more incisive questions of the lecturer, so the development of ideas becomes a shared experience between students and lecturers. This creates a feeling of inclusion and helps students to develop confidence in their understanding of a subject. This is particularly important in a university environment where rising numbers of international students have led to more cultural diversity.
Technology has made it easier for students to take an active role in plenary sessions. The use of interactive whiteboards such as the Span Wall makes it easier to see and share material from anywhere in the room, no matter how large the room is. The increasing trend towards students using their own technology in the lectures also improves access to the range of resources they can use and share to improve understanding.
Universities have also recognised the need for blended learning, and many provide a wide range of online resources to enable students to optimise their experience in the classroom. The ability to join and actively engage in lectures from any location enables distance learning. To help provide a good user experience for remote students tuning in to lectures and tutorials, it is important that they consider investing in good audio technology.
Furthermore, by recording lectures universities can allow students to come back to check their understanding and recap on important points made by the lecturer. They can also revisit the ideas and thoughts shared by their fellow students in group sessions.
So, the idea of active learning environments has been around for some time, but technology has taken this to a whole new level. The aim of every university is to help develop young people into well-rounded adults with a rich understanding of their chosen subject. Active, blended and distance learning and improves the learning experience and choices for a greater range of prospective students.