Monday, March 20, 2017

Rethinking Teaching at ANU

Today I attended the latest in a series of consultations on the redevelopment of Union Court at the Australian National University (ANU). What is most interesting is the changes in teaching practices which will accompany the new buildings.

Some of the more fanciful elements of the previous design have been dropped (such as a thirteen story obelisk). However, the core elements remain: student accommodation, and spaces for education, health and recreation. 

The central Manning Clarke lecture theater complex will not be replaced with dedicated lecture theaters. Instead the new culture and events building will have multi-purpose rooms, with flat floors and retractable raked seating, which can be used for conventional lectures. However, it is expected that more "cabaret" style, flipped teaching will be used, in the new Collaborative Learning Building. This will have rooms with flat floors, furniture on wheels, white-board walls and electronic screens.

The fit-out of the Collaborative Learning Building has not been finalized, but I expect it will have features proven in the University of Canberra's Inspire Center and  their Teaching and Learning Commons.

The change to the classrooms is relatively easy to implement, compared to the new teaching practices needed to make best use of the facilities. The change is one I have advocated, since first hearing about TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) classrooms in 2007. However, this requires new Digital Teaching  skills, which it will take staff time to acquire.

The approach I suggest is to redesign courses and programs top-down, starting with learning objectives, then assessment, and lastly, activities to support the learning. Learning the basics can be moved on-line, with valuable floor space, and instructor time, devoted to acquiring advanced skills. This change can be challenging for a "lecturer" who find themselves no longer giving "lectures". The students also need help adjusting to where the focus is on them learning, not the staff "teaching" them.

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