31.5.10

CREATING PUBLIC SPACE. Northern Illinois University has released its plans for renovating Cole Hall. The westerly lecture hall will be upgraded, and the easterly lecture hall rebuilt to house the anthropology museum (which provides practical experience for aspiring curators) and a new computer lab. The description of the computer lab offers an instructive snippet of contemporary pedagogy as polluted by colleges of education and acronymers.

The facility, which will accommodate up to 50 students at one time, will be based on the SCALE-UP (Student Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) model pioneered at North Carolina State University, and used at more than 50 universities nationwide.

The lab will provide a technology-rich atmosphere for team-based problem solving. Classes will consist of students broken down into teams seated around tables with access to computers for research and whiteboards for capturing and sharing information and ideas. At the start of a session teams will be presented with interesting questions to ponder, problems to solve or hands-on simulation exercises to complete. Students will work collaboratively to find answers, with the instructor providing prompts, comparing and contrasting the actions of different teams and guiding the teams to solutions.

Other schools have used similar facilities in classes such as physics, chemistry, math, biology, engineering and even literature. Results to date indicate that students gain a better conceptual understanding of the subject matter than their peers in traditional lecture-based classes.

I'm going to have to track down those results. Smaller classes, particularly comprising self-selected students who might enroll with like-minded friends, are likely to do better and have more emergent collaboration without the whiteboards, computer pods, and acronyms. Heck, sitting under a tree engaging in give-and-take can get the same results, and the technology-rich environment could be quill pens and papyrus for all that.

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