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Published October 4, 2010 | Multidisciplinary

Active Learning in CEGEP Classrooms

What is Active Learning?

Active Learning has become a way to describe the type of pedagogy that is rooted in Constructivist and Social Constructivist research on learning. The 2 key tenets of this approach are : (1) learning is an active process of constructing meaning; and (2) people have different ways of learning.

Active learning involves having students construct their understanding and knowledge from their engagement in activities and experiences that have been purposefully designed by the instructor. In short, active learning describes approaches where teachers do NOT simply "show and tell." Instead, active learning approaches mean having students involved in the "doing thinking" of the classroom activities. According to Bonwell and Eison (1991), active learning can be characterized as follows :

Students are involved in more than listening, less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing students' skills, students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation), students are engaged in activities (e.g., reading, discussing, writing), and greater emphasis is placed on students' exploration of their own attitudes and values. (p. 2)

McGill University

McGill University’s active learning classroom at the Faculty of Education.

The McGill Visit

Last Fall, here at Champlain College Saint Lambert, our IT Sub-Committee was looking for ways to assess what directions educational technology might soon take. The members decided they would like to see a classroom of the future.

In December, 2009 a visit was arranged to McGill University's active learning classroom at the Faculty of Education. Members of the committee, including several teachers, visited the facility and were given a guided tour by McGill's Adam Finklestein.

The classroom, which was designed as a prototype to introduce McGill faculty to active learning strategies, accommodates 72 students at large round tables seating nine. Each table is equipped with 3 desktop computers and has connections for several laptops. Of course, the room is fully equipped for wireless connections.

The walls of the room are "projectable" and "writeable". Four projectors can be used to display content on the walls and groups of students, using whiteboard markers, can map out their strategies on the walls.

There is some exceptional technological magic at the podium in the middle of the room. At the center of it all is a control panel which allows the teacher, or students doing presentations, to select from numerous inputs and from outputs to two different pairs of projectors. The output from any computer in the room can be directed to a projector and any computer's screen can be shared with other members at the same table. Naturally, the podium includes a three-dimensional projector and the usual DVD inputs. A special bonus to most teachers, the podium can be raised or lowered by the push of a button.

The CQE workshop

As a one-time architecture student, I was struck by the way the physical space and the technology combined to send a message to everyone entering the room: this is going to be a different kind of learning experience.

I decided to explore active learning as an educational strategy, spurred on by the research of my colleague, Raymond Cantin, at La Vitrine. It seemed to me that the very name, active learning, implies immediately that we are talking about a student-centered approach, which is part of the pedagogical shift I think most Educational Advisors are trying to encourage in their colleges.


The Active Learning Site.

With the aid of the Canada Quebec Entente, and McGill's generosity in making their classroom available, I planned a 12-hour workshop, spread over three half-days. I was fortunate to enlist the services of Doctor Liz Charles as presenter. Liz is an educational researcher and Cégep teacher who has been exploring active learning for some time.

The workshop took place in June 2010 and involved 14 participants, mostly teachers from Champlain Saint-Lambert. Before, during, and after the workshop a wiki was used to provide an agenda, readings, notes and a space to collaborate. Most of the material generated has been placed on a website to enable others to benefit from a deeper understanding of the active learning concepts.

Where from here?

We are now working out details for this year’s activities, again subsidized by the Canada Quebec Entente. Active learning may be a strategy that speaks to educators on an intuitive level and may be one of the best ways to encourage the use of more student-centered activities in our college classrooms.

If you would like to participate in these activities don’t hesitate to contact me. Perhaps we can build a network of active learning specialists committed to extending the understanding and the application of best practices in college teaching.

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