Active learning classroom reinvents group work

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“I’m going to put you in break out mode now,” said USF’s College of Public Health Dr. Karen Liller, professor in the Department of Community and Family Health (CFH), to her Tuesday afternoon program planning graduate course.

“Break-out mode,” as Liller likes to call it, is only one of the perks of using an active learning classroom.

While a normal classroom might have rows of desks or chairs fixed into the ground with one large screen for projecting slideshows, the active learning classrooms in COPH 2003 and 2004 offer a much more interactive setting for both student teacher.

The rooms feature large screens fixed to all sides of the room, and desks with wheels that allow students to arrange them however they find most helpful.

“I could walk; I could stand right beside them; I can just look at any screen and talk to students, and I don’t have to run up to the front,” Liller said. “I could be anywhere in the room and just have the conversation.”

The biggest perk of the active learning classroom: group work.

“I absolutely love it for the groups,” Liller said. “It has made such a difference.”

Liller said that usually she’s taught this class in a normal classroom, and when she’d try to put students in groups, it would be awkward and inefficient, with one person having a laptop and everyone else trying to crowd around them to see the screen.

Dr. Karen Liller addresses her class held in the Active Learning Classroom. (Photo by Zach Murray)

Dr. Karen Liller addresses her class held in the Active Learning Classroom. (Photo by Zach Murray)

Now, however, students are able to connect their own computers to the screens lining the walls, so that everyone in the group can see what’s being done and can participate.

“I’m not a person to just stand up here for three hours,” said Liller on why she’s such a strong proponent of active learning. “I really want them involved.”

In particular, the Program Planning Methods in Community Health course really benefits from this kind of structure. As a part of the course, the students are working in groups in the community to develop plans for specific populations.

Dr. Karen Liller addresses a small breakout group in the Active Learning Classroom. (Photo by Zack Murray)

Dr. Karen Liller addresses a small breakout group in the Active Learning Classroom. (Photo by Zack Murray)

For example, Natalie Shrenker, a graduate student in CFH, and her group worked throughout the course to develop a program to increase pregnant women urinary tract infection testing and increase public transportation in the area of Sulphur Springs.

“Overall I think the screens around the room are helpful to see smaller details in presentations,” Shrenker said. “Regarding small group breakups, this helps the group members see the same thing and [be] more focused.”

“This has been the one time I’ve taught this course that they are the most involved,” said Liller. “They see the data in real time and they’re also in the community working in groups.”

Liller said that she hopes that all of the classrooms adapt this technology, and expects that the next time she teaches this course without this technology, she’ll notice a difference.

“I just think this way of instruction is great,” she said. “I’m so glad I was able to experience it with the students.”

Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley, USF College of Public Health