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Published March 27, 2017 | Multidisciplinary

Commitment to Active Learning Results in a Significant Grant for LaSalle College

The installation of Active Learning (AL) spaces in Quebec Colleges is an important part of the movement to help college teachers transform their pedagogy and to promote deeper learning for students. Profweb was recently invited to LaSalle College to visit their new Steelcase Active Learning room and to speak with teachers that are using an AL approach. LaSalle College is the only Canadian institution to have won a grant from Steelcase Education in 2016, which allowed the college to renovate one of their classrooms and acquire modular furniture and technology.

During the visit to LaSalle College, I sat down with Associate Academic Dean Mathieu Lepine and teachers Heather Sorella and Peter Vachon who are members of a community of users of the Active Learning spaces within the college.

From left to right: Associate Academic Dean Mathieu Lepine and teachers Heather Sorella and Peter Vachon.

The Steelcase Active Learning Center Grant

LaSalle College entered the selection process for a grant with Steelcase Education when Mathieu Lepine received a message from Claude Marchand, President of LCI Education via LinkedIn just before the holiday break at the end of 2015.

About 800 institutions (high schools, colleges and universities) from across North America submitted an application. Active Learning practitioner and teacher Peter Vachon feels that LaSalle College's application stood out due to its strong focus on pedagogy. The fact that the college already had an AL community of practice of about 12 people in the college also helped.

Craig Wilson, the Director of Market Development for Steelcase Education seems to concur with this assessment:

LaSalle College was chosen for its commitment to utilize progressive pedagogies and active learning strategies that truly impact student engagement.

The grant allowed for the design of one of 4 classroom types for a group of 24 to 32 students, the purchase of modular furniture and integrated technology. The installation of the classrooms for the successful establishments took place over the summer of 2016.

A peek inside room 2204 reveals an array of individual whiteboards.

The Steelcase Active Learning Center Grant includes a requirement to participate in a 2-year program to assess and research the impact of the space on student motivation and achievement. The establishments that received a grant also received training on the use of the technology and furniture. Currently, at least one teacher from each of LaSalle College’s 4 Schools (Fashion, Arts & Design, Hotel Management and Tourism, Business & Technologies, Humanities & Social Sciences) is using the new Active Classroom.

Changing Pedagogies in Active and Traditional Classrooms

Heather Sorella mentioned that the teachers that were selected to use the renovated space all received training from a Steelcase representative. Heather is currently using both traditional classrooms and the Steelcase room at the same time. She has been able to transfer some of her learning from the new room to the traditional classrooms with a few tweaks. Heather feels that the new learning space is about much more than the modular furniture, and she is trying different configurations to try to optimize her approach depending on what she is teaching. For her, getting familiar with the potential of the new room is a process, and she particularly likes the fact that she has integrated a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) approach into the classes she is teaching there.

The Steelcase room faces Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal and includes desks at a traditional height as well as bistro-style tables and chairs. All of the chairs are on wheels to permit easy reconfiguration.

Peter Vachon feels that you should keep it simple and try things out little-by-little in the beginning. He mentioned that teachers probably shouldn’t be put in the new space without some sort of technological and pedagogical accompaniment. He likes that the Steelcase research project will take place over a 2-year period, which will allow the teachers to learn more incrementally, rather than trying to figure out too many things at once. Peter underscores the importance of training to successfully using the Active Learning space: “You have to learn how to use it properly as a teacher, instructor and facilitator.“

Peter also feels that if you choose to teach in the active learning environment, it will affect you from a professional development perspective. According to him, “you can’t just lecture in that space!” When it comes time for the teacher or the students to present, he will sometimes place them in the center of the room, and Peter also moves the teacher’s desk around the room to work with the different groups from time to time.

A Welcoming Environment for Technology

The Active Learning room features an ēno interactive whiteboard, which is a sophisticated piece of equipment that allows the teacher in the room to do many things they couldn’t do with earlier projectors. My interviewees felt that teachers require training and a chance to practice with the equipment as a precursor to successfully integrating the technology into their teaching project.

A BYOD project in Computer Science and Fashion Marketing is under way which coincides well with the modular nature of the classroom since students can easily transport their devices around the room. There are also ample power outlets in the room for students to recharge their devices.The BYOD approach has made teachers less reliant on the computer labs, which were not always easy to book due to their popularity and conflicting appointments. The administrators of the college are hoping that there will be a BYOD policy in place at LaSalle College within the next 3 years or less.

The Student Response

During the first semester that the students experience the AL space, they needed to get used to the room. They have had a positive reaction and students are more comfortable using it this semester. Peter thinks that the room has led to better collaboration and focus. The students often work in groups of 4 to 8 members, but the circulation between groups is often very fluid. Heather also mentioned that there is one of the teachers using the space that has a student with Hyperactivity Disorder. In the Steelcase room, the student has the latitude to stand whenever he needs, but this would simply not be possible in a traditional classroom.

A view from the students' perspective. A number of individual whiteboards are available around the room, and an ēno interactive whiteboard is visible at the front of the room.

Future Plans

According to Mathieu Lepine, the college is looking at adding modular furniture to 6 to 8 more classrooms over the next couple of academic years. They are working with Steelcase’s local distributor on some potential projects, and other LCI affiliates may also be reconfiguring classrooms in the near future.

The AL community of practice will continue to meet and is in the process of working on a discussion forum that is a key component for sharing best practices and will help with training other teachers that are interested in using the Steelcase Active Learning room. They will also write a full report for Steelcase in June 2017 and June 2018 to describe the impact of the room on the students and teachers. Heather Sorella and Peter Vachon are currently working on a Masters Degree which will include some experimentation with the English students next year.

Congratulations to the LaSalle College community for the recognition of your efforts to promote deeper learning through new pedagogical approaches. We look forward to hearing more about your discoveries in Active Learning in the coming semesters!

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