New Library Classroom: Possibilities for Active Learning and Flipping

My library has a classroom again!

We just completed a nearly year-long renovation, and I taught a few classes in the new room before the semester started winding down. Of all the new features and spaces created during the renovation, this is the one I’ve been most excited about.

The rest of the library looks great, too. One of the best parts has been overhearing students talking about the changes. Students especially like the bright colors, additional computers and study spaces, and wide open spaces. We didn’t add any square footage, but the first floor looks much bigger now, thanks to clean, white surfaces and unimpeded sight lines.

We’re experiencing some growing pains as we return to normal operations in the new space. For instance, we still don’t have an intercom installed, making closing announcements tricky. The library classroom is no different.

I’ve only taught in the new space a few times, but I’m already thinking about how I’ll change my approach to one-shots to take advantage of the possibilities and peculiarities of the room.

For context, you need to know what our pre-renovation classroom was like: no windows, no tables, no desks, and one computer in the back of the classroom projecting onto the front wall. It was almost impossible for students to take notes or do any hands-on activities. This room now stores microfilm and a repository of government documents.

During the renovation, we taught one-shots in instructors’ classrooms. A few are computer labs, but most are equipped with just a computer podium and projector. While those rooms at least have writing surfaces, they still preclude hands-on practice and opportunities to begin researching in class.

The new classroom is on the second floor, occupying space that used to be held by a tutoring center (now expanded and located downstairs). The room is long and narrow, with high ceilings and plenty of natural light, thanks to tall windows on one side of the room.

Here’s the view from the main entrance, and the view from the teaching podium.

When I first saw the room, I made a note to ask my boss to make sure they hung white boards in the room. Then I realized that the entire wall opposite the windows, as well as the front wall, are floor to ceiling whiteboards. Students don’t realize that at first, and the look on their face when I casually make a note on the wall is priceless. Once they realize, everyone wants to write on the walls!

I was excited to let students use the wall to create concept maps and brainstorm keywords, but soon discovered a problem: the markers don’t erase as completely as a traditional whiteboard. Ghosts of old classes remain unless you use a heavy-duty polish to scrub them away. I’ve solved the problem by using these tabletop flip chart/whiteboards and hanging giant sticky notes on the wall, but the whiteboard walls are just one aspect of the new classroom that presents opportunities and challenges.

The room is equipped with forty computers arranged into eight rows, with the teaching podium situated at the front. The fact that students will have access to computers during one-shots is the biggest adjustment I’ll have to make in the new classroom.

On the one hand, access to computers opens up a slew of new possibilities for active learning activities. Now instead of just telling students that preliminary Google and Wikipedia searches are a good way to find keywords for a topic, we’ll be able to put that into practice for keyword brainstorming activities.

Instead of lecturing, I can assign students in each row to work together to answer a specific question (How do you request a book from another campus? or How does EBSCO’s folder feature work?) and invite groups to the teaching podium to demonstrate what they learned for the class.

Computers will also allow me to experiment with flipping my classroom. This semester I am embedded in a 100% online class for the first time (previously I’ve only been embedded in face-to-face sections), prompting me to create my first screencasts.

My hope is that as I develop more screencasts and partner with willing instructors, we’ll assign students to watch videos, answer some questions about the content, and come prepared with a research topic for homework. When students enter the library classroom, I’ll assess their knowledge with a LibGuide poll or PollEverywhere, and spend a few minutes on targeted review. Then we can get started on active learning exercises to refine topics and brainstorm keywords before diving into hands-on practice with research. My goal is to spend as little time lecturing as possible and let students’ point-of-need questions drive the lesson plan.

However, the computers definitely have downsides. I wasn’t prepared for both the literal and figurative barrier they present to connecting with students. I’m used to teaching to students sitting at tables, with whom I can make eye contact or share a quick aside. Now that there are computer monitors between us, it’s disconcerting to lose that connection.

Apart from the physical barrier computers impose, students are too easily distracted when they have a computer in front of them. When students arrive before class starts, almost all log on immediately and open a browser without prompting. I find myself working harder to get students’ attention now that I’m competing with a monitor. They’re so used to turning to the nearest screen and too overconfident that they can use the computer and pay attention to lecture and discussion at the same time.

Is flipping the classroom the answer? If the lesson plan is devoted to active learning rather than lecturing, students will use classroom technology to explore their topics and get started on their research, not as a distraction. Of all the new renovation changes and challenges, I am most looking forward to experimenting flipping my lesson plan now that I have a long-awaited, welcome laboratory in the new classroom.

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