UWA receives $50k Active Learning Center from Steelcase Education

ALC Blended ClassroomLIVINGSTON — The University of West Alabama has been selected to receive a Blended Learning classroom through the Active Learning Center (ALC)<http://www.steelcase.com/en/products/Category/Educational/Pages/active-learning-center-grant.aspx> program, a grant initiative launched in 2014 by Steelcase.

Education<http://www.steelcaseeducation.com/>. UWA is one of only 12 recipients nationwide. The innovative classroom is valued at $51,200.

This program empowers educators to implement active learning strategies by leveraging classroom space.
Beginning summer 2015, a Steelcase Education learning environment will be installed at UWA’s Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education in the newly renovated Lyon Hall. DeKalb Office, an authorized Steelcase dealer in Birmingham, will lead the classroom installation.

Expected to open with the fall 2015 semester, the Blended Learning classroom will positively impact teaching, learning and support active pedagogies for students eager to return to classes. The Blended Learning classroom easily morphs into various classroom structures including lecture, independent or teamwork, presentation and discussion.

“We are most grateful to have been awarded an Active Learning Center grant from Steelcase,” said UWA President Ken Tucker. “This is an exceptional honor for us, being one of only 12 recipients across the nation from an applicant pool of more than 500.”

Zones within the classroom allow students to work at their own pace with the instructor as a guide. As a result, the learning environment enables the instructor to move easily throughout the space to assess student understanding and guide continued skill mastery and application.

“This very generous support will afford us the opportunity to enhance our already impressive facilities with state-of-the-art technology and furnishings that are proven to be conducive to productivity and learning,” Tucker explained.

“We are extremely thankful for the confidence placed in us by Steelcase Education to utilize their innovations through our academic programs.”

For UWA, the grant is the result of collaboration between the school’s Office of Sponsored Programs and faculty from the Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education.

UWA has been a pioneer in education technology and learning in the state of Alabama. A university-wide paradigm shift from instructor-centered to student-centered pedagogy and implementation of the 5E Learning Model within a Steelcase Blended Classroom will enable a move from a passive to an active 21st Century learning environment.

The 5E Model is a powerful student-centered instructional model that has been shown to significantly increase student engagement, active learning, and instructional effectiveness (Bybee et al., 2006; Kolis et al., 2011; Tanner, 2010).
Instructors using this model can engage students’ interest in a topic through technology tools, class activity, and more, which allows the instructor to assess students’ prior knowledge. Instructors can explore previous knowledge collaboratively through communication with classmates, questioning and critical thinking

The model also allows instructors to explain topics, introduce new vocabulary, and clarify misconceptions and to elaborate through application of new concepts to new and different contexts. All of this, researchers say, allows for a thorough evaluation of student learning.

Research supports the idea that the order of instructional activities is critically important to factors of student success, such as motivation, retention of information, and understanding of concepts. The flexibility of the model makes it applicable to learners of all ages and within any academic discipline. Additionally, it has been associated with helping instructors demonstrate the qualities (e.g., approachable, creative, interesting, enthusiastic, etc.) associated with excellence in teaching.

The project’s co-directors, Dr. Celeste Wheat, assistant professor of student affairs and director of the UWA Center for Excellence in Teaching, and Dr. Martha Hocutt, professor of instructional technology, will share oversight for all activities. Dr. Yan Sun, assistant professor of instructional technology, will serve as the research methodologist and grant evaluator. Dr. Amy Jones, assistant professor of journalism and speech, and Dr. Andrea Minear, assistant professor of elementary education, also collaborated with the grant writing team.

All University faculty will be given the opportunity to apply to serve as an Active Learning Center Faculty Fellow and teach courses in the Active Learning Classroom. Applicants will submit a teaching philosophy statement and curriculum vitae. Faculty fellows will be competitively selected by a committee of the grant administrators and academic deans.

“UWA has shown its commitment to active learning strategies and student engagement in the classroom,” said Sean Corcorran, general manager of Steelcase Education. “With this new learning environment, UWA will be able to utilize a flexible learning space that allows educators to explore the capabilities of an environment built specifically for improved engagement and collaboration.”

In addition to receiving a new classroom, UWA will receive training from Steelcase leaders on the uses of the technology and furniture in their new spaces and will have the opportunity to participate in a community of practice with all awarded schools to share insights and best practices. Over the two-year program, Steelcase will evaluate student and educator engagement in the newly designed space using Steelcase’s Active Learning Post Occupancy Evaluation<http://www.steelcase.com/content/uploads/2015/03/Post-Occupancy-Whitepaper_FINAL.pdf> and other research tools.

Steelcase research<http://www.steelcase.com/insights/articles/new-learning-curve/> has shown that active learning environments positively impact student engagement. When surveyed, a majority of students and educators reported that the active learning classrooms contributed to higher engagement, the expectation of better grades, more motivation and more creativity, when compared to traditional row-by-row seating.

In addition to UWA, 11 other schools and universities were chosen from the 540 applicants for unique approaches to active learning. For more information on the winners, visit the Steelcase Education website.<http://www.steelcase.com/discover/information/education/active-learning-center-grant/>