FLINT — Traditional teaching is a little like watching a movie — those in the classroom sit passively in rows.
Bahram Roughani, professor and head of the physics department at Kettering University, wants to make it more like a card game, with everyone sitting in a circle and everyone participating.
Roughani is incorporating so-called “active learning” methodologies into the Kettering physics curriculum. He’s restructured existing labs and built a new lab called the Physics Active Learning Studio.
Included in the PAS Studio are touches like a smart projector, capable of projecting realtime graphics or video onto everyday surfaces, images that can be marked up with an infrared pen, and a single server for all applications used in the studio, which connects wirelessly to all computers in the studio — something like an internal cloud.
“Eventually, students will be able to log into the server from anywhere — work, home, or a coffee shop — using a wireless connection,” Roughani said.
In addition to the PAL Studio, another Physics lab, the Electricity and Magnetism Lab, commonly known as the Phys 2 Lab, was re-configured to facilitate active learning.
“The original physics labs on campus were designed around the equipment with workstations facing the wall,” he said.
He re-designed the Phys 2 Lab by taking fixtures away from the wall and putting four work stations in the shape of an X, and locating the power sources and equipment near the center of the X. This configuration requires students to work in groups of three rather than two and fosters more interaction and collaboration.
“They were simple changes that made a big difference,” he said. “The environment you create sends a message. When you’re designing a classroom you are designing a learning environment.”
Roughani said the next step in developing the PAL Studio would be to install a recording station so faculty could record lectures or parts of lectures that students could access on line at their convenience. Calling it a true collaborative effort, Roughani referenced the contribution of Kettering’s Information Technologies department who installed the interactive equipment and software that facilitate active learning.
According to Roughani, the PAL Studio will facilitate a higher level of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy, the widely recognized classification of learning objectives within education that includes three domains, or types of learning ability: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor (sometimes described as knowing/head, feeling/heart and doing/hands respectively). “Currently we are limited to four hours in a room such-and-such. We lecture to students who passively listen, and then leave the classroom to do the work assigned to them,” he said.
Roughani’s theory is that using a blended version of learning methodologies will allow students to learn more effectively based on their habits. Some learn better on their own, some learn better by discussing the topic with other people, some learn better by working with others to solve problems.
“In a classroom one can present the material in a variety of these learning styles, but even if the instructor manages to cover all the learning styles it still may not be enough to maximize the learning styles of all students,” said Roughani.
To encourage faculty to engage in active learning methodologies, Roughani said that Physics faculty members who request PAL Studio to teach in have to submit a short proposal outlining how they will incorporate active learning into their curriculum to best utilize the room.
To accomplish his mission, Roughani began fundraising in early 2010, and started work on physical development of the lab spaces in 2011. The room was developed with $25,400 in donations and support from the Provost’s Office, with $23,500 of donations from three alumni including Sharon Hillquist, wife of the late Ralph Hillquist ’59, Kenneth Shinn ’50 and J. Michael Losh ‘69.
“Bonnie McArthur, from University Advancement, was instrumental in helping us secure funding for the PAL Studio,” said Roughani. Physics faculty and students are currently able to have partial use of the PAL Studio. The studio will be available for regular classes upon completion of final IT installation, according to Roughani.