With the new Active Learning Spaces opening at 1 Central Courtyard, it’s a good time to consolidate an understanding of how we at Macquarie have worked with active learning approaches over the years – and how we can continue to work in the brand-new AL spaces that are now open at 1CC.

What is Active Learning?

At Macquarie, active learning has been interpreted as those learning activities where the student actively participates or interacts with and in the learning process, instead of (just) passively taking in information. In this guide produced by the Faculty of Business and Economics – How To Apply Active Learning Techniques: Learning through meaning , editor Professor Leigh Wood introduces active learning techniques as those that “encourage – and even demand – that students become co-creators of their learning.”

Prof. Wood also points to the challenges active learning raises for students – and for staff:

 The design of the teaching and learning activities and the assessment tasks requires students to participate in their learning. The participatory nature of active learning may be a challenge to students (and teaching staff) who may be used to more passive forms of direct instruction… [but] active learning techniques can be far-reaching.

The idea that active learning is greatly facilitated when it takes place in particular types of learning environments has also taken root. In a 2018 Teche post, Dr Tanya Rose described the purpose behind the design of the original Active Learning Spaces that had just opened on Macquarie’s campus:

“[The Active Learning Spaces] are brightly coloured, have easily moving furniture, and are equipped with a range of technology that can help to facilitate a range of teaching approaches, including group work, team-based learning, and reflective exercises. They are incredible resources at the university for those looking to teach in a way different than content-based lecture delivery.”

The drawback then? “There are only four of them.”

That’s no longer the case, with 20+ new Active Learning Spaces now open at 1CC – yes, all still with moveable furniture and the latest edtech, but now in a range of flexible (and colour-coded) room layouts including café, workspace, maker space, project-based, ‘nodal’, as well as the more traditional seminar and tutorial. (We’ll be profiling some of these spaces for Teche in future posts).

Active learning in lectures

Active learning is often presented as an antithesis to traditional lectures, but here at MQ, we haven’t so much done away altogether with lectures, but instead integrated them with active learning approaches that have been shown to work online as well as in face-to-face contexts. For example, in this Teche post, Dr Olga Kozar presents ways to make lectures more engaging by incorporating active learning strategies. Similarly, Drs Murray Taylor and Mauricio Marrone from Macquarie Business School presented their tips for active learning in lectures as part of the 2020 L&T event Educating for Success.

Active learning online

The team from the Learning Innovation Hub put together this guide on active learning for those using the then-brand-new Echo360 Active Learning Platform, while Beverley Miles wrote a 2018 post outlining how she and colleagues were experimenting with the Echo 360 ALP.

In 2020 the FMHHS Learning and Teaching team put together a list of all the tools in Moodle that can foster active and engaged learning.

Finally, one of the most useful resources on Active Learning for Macquarie educators – then and now – is this two-page document produced by the University of Michigan on the Active Learning Continuum summarising AL activities that work in any classroom; f2f and online, with large and small classes.

Keep an eye out for future posts, where we’ll be matching some of the activities described in these resources to the new AL Spaces – just to see what’s possible!

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