By Kathy Naasz, Associate Professor

Students have changed, but have our teaching methods?  Have our classrooms? Studies have shown that active learning increases student engagement, but observations indicate that most university classes do not use active learning for a dominant portion of the class time.

The topic of my dissertation study is to explore the impact of an innovative learning space, called the Innovation Cave, on active learning in university classes at Centenary University. The Innovation Cave consists of funky colored ottomans and fully writeable walls: low tech, high touch, where this is no lectern for lecture or no defined front of the classroom. The professor is at the same level as the students. Universities invest in these spaces but there has been little research on their impact on teaching and learning.   The doctoral program at Centenary University uses an applied learning approach and allows students to research topics relevant to  one’s job.  I had often stated that I wished that I had more time to focus on the strategic issues at work and be allowed time for creative thinking.  Well, the doctorate did just that; it made creative thinking a priority and job-embedded projects a reality.  The scope of the study is at the university where I work. Using leading edge research in active learning,  I leveraged an algorithm (known as DART, Decibel Analysis for Research in Teaching) and collected sound wave recordings to determine the % time the class session was engaged in active learning = learning by doing rather than passively listening to lectures. (DART sample output below).

Click here for DART sample output

Click above for DART sample output

I also surveyed students and compared their self-reported measure of engagement, higher-order and active learning in the Innovation Cave (below) versus a traditional classroom.  The professors, too, provided input on their perceptions of student engagement and how the innovative space effected their own teaching.

The study is currently underway and initial feedback is encouraging with professors asking if they can continue to teach in the Innovation Cave and students noticing the shift in dynamics from having a class in an innovative environment.

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