January 18, 2010

The 21st Century Classroom

If you went to university, you probably experienced, as I did, traditional lectures delivered in vast amphitheaters. The teacher, presenting from PowerPoint slides, would give us an occasional glance and could only have guessed whether we understood or not.

If we define learning as Piaget does, as “an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts”, those lectures were a far cry from what learning experiences ought to be.

In the summer of 2008 I happened to visit MIT. Our group was taken to a high-tech classroom called the “Studio” or TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning), which was influenced by technology, pedagogy, and innovative classroom design. It was absolutely awesome. Could this be the solution to the problem of thousands of students who find learning in educational institutions a mind-numbing experience?

The SCALE-UP Learning Environment

I later found out that TEAL was inspired by an innovative pedagogical movement pioneered 10 years ago by Dr. Robert J. Beichner, a physics teacher from North Carolina State University. Dr. Beichner had decided to reformat physics classes with a new mix of pedagogy, technology and classroom design that emphasized hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning.

Robert J. Beichner, Physics Professor North Carolina State University

In today’s podcast, you can hear him explain how SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) was first developed; how the combination of classroom design, technology, pedagogy and social interaction results in better learning (supported by empirical research and data); and how teaching unfolds in this innovative learning environment. Actually, if you’d like to get the students’ opinions about Scale-Up classrooms, check this video!

Today, more than one hundred colleges in the US and around the world are adopting or adapting the Scale-Up room design and pedagogy. You can use the Scale-Up website which contains plenty of information posted by advocates of this approach. If you’re a faculty member, you can reach Dr. Beichner by email at:

He’ll give you registered member access to the site so you can download research papers, implementation guides, instructional material, pictures, and descriptions about Scale-Up.

SCALE-UP classroom

La Vitrine’s Technologie-Éducation‘s mission is to promote and provide support for teachers and educational advisors in the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Québec’s college network. We produce a bi-weekly newsletter which highlights the latest innovations in the field of ICT and learning.

We would appreciate your comments about this article and podcast. After listening to the podcast interview, please use the form below to tell us:

  • If you’ve heard about these innovative classroom designs before;
  • If you’ve started to implement this type of classroom;
  • If you are thinking of implementing them in your college.
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