One of the most common requests we’ve received from faculty who teach in our active learning classrooms, called Mosaic classrooms, is this one:
Can you come and observe my class and see if I’m using the room optimally/correctly?
As the number of active learning classrooms has grown on our campuses, so too have the requests for observations within them. While Mosaic staff provides extensive support to faculty BEFORE they teach in our Mosaic classrooms, it’s after teaching for a few weeks that many faculty begin to reflect on how they are using (or not using) their room and its features. At this point instructors ask us for more feedback, often in the form of an observation request.
Inspired by the interest in a classroom observation that focuses on use of classroom space, we designed the Active Learning Classroom Observation Tool or ALCOT. The ALCOT is a protocol that considers how pedagogy is enacted in the space. For example, in the ALCOT, when we focus on an instructor’s use of active learning approaches during a class, we also consider how that instructor uses affordances in the room to facilitate those approaches.
For an example, consider Section One of the ALCOT observation tool:
- Instructor use of the Active Learning Classroom to support active learning:
- In what ways did the instructor engage students in active learning during this class?
- How did the instructor use instructional technologies in the room (e.g., media, tables, huddle boards) to engage students in in-class activities and instruction?
Since its creation in 2015, we’ve used the ALCOT in a number of our learning spaces, and would like to share some observations from its use from a faculty developer’s perspective.
Familiarize yourself with the classroom ahead of the scheduled observation. It’s important to be knowledgeable about a classroom space and its features before you observe an instructor teaching in that space. Knowing what’s in the room (and how to use it) allows you to provide small, contextualized suggestions to an instructor.
Spend time talking about implementation. In the post-observation discussions, we spend a lot of time on refining the implementation of active learning approaches in any given classroom. Instructors who have already taught in the classroom want to know how “best” to use aspects of the room for activities. Be prepared to talk about the “nuts and bolts” of how to implement and transition between activities.
Don’t ignore lecture. Even instructors who teach in active learning classrooms still need to lecture. It’s important to discuss how best to leverage the room to support instructor (and student) presentations.
- During the observation, notice where an instructor stands or moves in the classroom as they lecture. To help communicate how faculty actually use space, we often bring a blueprint of the classroom to an observation and mark where the instructor moves and tends to stand during the class.
- During the observation, notice how instructors can leverage classroom affordances to best facilitate lecture. For example, with more screens in the rooms, we frequently recommend instructors put their slides on ALL of the screens so students can have a closer view regardless of where they are sitting.
Be prepared to answer the question, “But how do I use best use the space?” Most of our instructors ask this during the course of the observation conversation. Instructors often believe they aren’t using enough of what the room has to offer. Rather than worry about using every classroom feature, we try to focus the instructor’s attention on how to best use the space for their OWN class.
We hope the ALCOT and the above tips for using the ALCOT are helpful for classroom observations in any classrooms, but especially active learning classrooms.
We’re currently updating the ALCOT, and will share the new version here (look for it in summer, 2019). Until then, feel free to share the resources YOU use for classroom observations in the comments below.
For more on how and why we created the first version of the ALCOT, see this article: http://openjournal.lib.miamioh.edu/index.php/jctl/article/view/157
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