Room 224 in the Faculty of Information’s Bissell Building has the bright, eye-catching colours of a daycare centre, but those youthful good looks are somewhat deceiving. The classroom’s designer, Assistant Professor Olivier St-Cyr describes the space as “one of the most technologically sophisticated classrooms on campus.”
Equipped with eight giant, interactive touch screen TVs on its walls and a selection of whiteboards, Room 224 is what’s known as a technologically enhanced active learning (TEAL) classroom. The completely wireless environment accommodates 72 students in person with connections available for 250 students including remote participants. As much as wireless is taken for granted outside the classroom, completely wireless classrooms remain a rarity in academia. Instructors still have to reserve and bring in special cables and suites of adaptors and dongles to even the sleekest and most technologically sophisticated classrooms.
St-Cyr, who is a teaching stream faculty member in the Faculty of Information’s User Experience Design concentration with a cross appointment to the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, wanted a studio-style classroom designed for UX coursework and active learning techniques. In the summer of 2018, he oversaw the construction of a UX design studio in the Bissell Building’s basement. It served as a prototype or “baby room,” as St-Cyr calls it, for Room 224.
Speaking at the launch of Room 224 last month, Provost Cheryl Regehr said that the Faculty of Information and its professors have been “leaders in classroom design, teaching innovation and the creation of space.”
“At a time when we’re seeing the emergence of entirely new industries, our faculty are working hard to create interactive, hands-on innovative programs,” said Regehr. “Classrooms like this one and those in the Myhal Centre create new and exciting ways for students to collaborate with one another.”
The Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which opened in 2018, doesn’t have any traditional classrooms. Its learning spaces were conceived to use technology to re-imagine the relationship between the speaker and the audience. They were designed to make every class, guest lecture or special event a forum for two-way engagement and spontaneous interaction.
In Room 224 of the Bissell Building, the tables can be set up as high-tops or regular height and wheeled around quickly into different configurations. The different brightly coloured chairs aren’t just for looks either. Form follows function, says St-Cyr, explaining that an exercise might involve getting everyone in the green chairs together or asking occupants of the orange chairs to lead a discussion.
While there is a traditional podium for professors who want it, the classroom is set up so that there is no real front of the room. The teacher can be at the centre of activities right in the middle of the class or in no fixed position. While participants can attend remotely, those features haven’t yet been enabled. For now, says St-Cyr, the classroom is only operating at 10% of its technological capacity as professors familiarize themselves with everything it can do.
As he swipes the TV screen for a demonstration at the launch, St-Cyr explains, “Whatever I can do with my mouse on my computer, I can do here with my fingers.” He then allows a colleague to share a second screen so they can compare their work, a common classroom activity. He explains that all students in the class use a special secure app designed by the supplier of the smart TVs so that they too can participate and access the screens.
A member of the Transforming the Instructional Landscape Committee, St-Cyr also sees Room 224 as his “teaching research lab for the next four or five years. It’s a huge exploratory sandbox where faculty members are invited to come and learn about new TEAL pedagogies,” he says, adding that the classroom is open for “play time” every Thursday afternoon to anyone who’s interested.
As the university looks to create more TEAL classrooms, St-Cyr wants to provide insights and enable colleagues and students to do the same. Contact him at email@example.com for more information.