Active learning relies on experience more than space

At UBTech®, Penn State’s Kyle Bowen says experience takes priority as students embark on active approaches

“Classrooms aren’t designed to fit classes.”

That age-old problem is why Kyle Bowen, director of education technology at The Pennsylvania State University, has been focusing on experiences rather than on spaces as that institution’s new rooms are designed.

“What experience does is it challenges the assumptions we make about spaces. Spaces are built, but experiences are grown,” Bowen said during his Monday afternoon presentation on “The Future of Learning Spaces is Designing Experiences” at the 2019 UBTech® conference in Orlando.

A key concept behind these new spaces is digital fluency, which teaches students to learn through active exploration, the development of new knowledge and the use of technology to bring about change. This is an evolution of digital literacy, which dealt with what technology students were using and how they used it.

Digital fluency, which entails a much more active method of instruction, is focused more on the “why” of technology use, says Bowen, who covered the key learning concepts behind new approaches to design.

Storytelling fluency

Penn State’s One Button Studio allows students to make videos and to practice presentation and performance skills without having to know much about lighting, camera angles and green screens. With a free app, they can go into the One Button Studio, record and edit their videos, and save them on a USB flash drive.

The Penn State system has built 24 of these facilities.

Maker fluency

Penn State has created a series of smaller makerspaces with simpler equipment to engage students who are not experienced makers. These spaces have also attracted students from outside traditional making disciplines, such as technology and engineering. For example, writing students have used the spaces to create inventions alongside their more traditional assignments. “We want to reduce the barriers of entry for students who aren’t familiar with these types of approaches,” Bowen says.

Immersive fluency

A key question on campus is: “How do we design physical spaces that support virtual spaces?” Bowen says.

In its Immersive Experiences Lab, Penn State has developed pinwheel-inspired desk configurations to accommodate students using virtual reality headsets in class. The desks have low walls that create separation between students who are immersed in virtual worlds and not paying close attention to their physical surroundings.

“If you think about having a headset on, you’re effectively blindfolded,” Bowen says. “You may feel a little bit vulnerable.”

Change fluency

Many classroom upgrades focus on collaboration. In Penn State’s Design Experiences Lab, groups can remove whiteboards from the walls and store them in lockers. This allows teams to preserve notes and ideas for their next sessions. Students can sit in chairs that tilt forward to “lean” them into a discussion.

In the university’s Blue Box studio, researchers, faculty, instructional designers and others are constantly evaluating new classroom configurations and the new teaching methods that arise.




Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular