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My first experience in our new active learning classroom

Today was my first time teaching in our newly remodeled instruction space. It was one of the best teaching experiences I have had in my 14 years of library instruction.


Our MBAs hard at work in Alden 251

The Room

The room is outfitted with three presentation screens at the front of the room.  There are six tables which seat 7, with a 48 inch television monitor at the head of each table.  The room is set up as BYOD (although we do have laptops available for checkout) and students can project via wireless from their laptops to the TV screens using Crestron Airmedia .

The Class Project

This is the first week of the fall semester, and the forty new MBAs have been off to a very fast start.  They will meet with their live client for their marketing project on Monday, so the timing was ideal that today (Friday) we were able to spend three hours together in our new classroom.

I held a similar research session for last year’s MBA class, but feedback from the students revealed it was too late to be of much use for their project (which they had just turned in).  Over the summer I was fortunate to work with our MBA coordinators to get a three hour block of time during their first week when their first project is launched.

The Class Activities

Last year’s session was held in a traditional campus classroom, with tables that held 6-8, with an instructor podium and projector.  I divided the group up into 8 teams, and gave each team 4 research questions.  The questions were geared toward their specific project (which I didn’t know they’d already completed) using specific resources.  Rather than stand at the front of the room and show the students how to use the particular resource, I designed the questions in a way that gave them enough information to allow team exploration of a resource on their own.  Each question listed the name of the database, and offered enough context clues to give the students some hints on what to look for.    After spending 45-60 minutes working through the questions, I then had each team report on how they solved the question, while also demonstrating the resource on the computer and projector for the rest of the class.  Many students liked this approach, though equally as many would have preferred a more traditional “database demonstration” approach.    Unfortunately, since I assigned each group their four questions all at once, many of the teams farmed out the questions to individuals, rather than work on each question as a team.    I’ve since used this “team-based exploration and teach others model” a few more times in other classes (mostly with graduate students) with varying levels of success.

For today’s session, I built upon the same explore/learn/show model but incorporated a few changes.  I was limited to 6 teams of 6-7 students (which was a touch large) since we only have six tables in our new room.  Rather than  give the students a handout of all the questions (and tell each team to answer different questions), I gave all groups the same questions.  Also, instead of using a handout, I put each question in a Tophat course that I developed for the class.  Each question was presented to the students individually, ensuring that the entire team was limited to working on the same question.  Each question was presented as a discussion question in Tophat, and I asked that each team answer with  [Team Name:  Answer]  format.  This allowed me to track team answers and time spent on the questions, while also identifying stellar responses to showcase to the rest of the class.  (Here are the questions if you would like to use them for your own business instruction class, or adapt them for another subject.)

The Crestron control station at the front of the room enables the instructor to grab and show a screen of one of the six table monitors.  I would use Tophat to identify an interesting answer (or a team that had yet to share) and then use the Crestron to present that team’s screen on the three large monitors at the front of the room.  I would then ask that team to explain to the other students how to navigate the database and how they found their answers.  By doing this, I was never at the front of the room doing a demonstration, but rather was coaching a student through the resource, asking questions, and prompting them to an answer.  One key takeaway about letting the students drive is that I always learn how to use our resources in a different way.

In Conclusion

I spent about 4 hours preparing for this class, which included writing the questions in Tophat, learning how to use it,  and running through the resources to make sure the questions made sense.  I also practiced for 30 minutes with the technology in the room.   With the exception of one Crestron monitor failing to connect, all of the technology worked flawlessly.     The students seemed to like the room, and appreciated getting out of their traditional classroom space.  No one fell asleep, and it appeared that most teams had participation from everyone at the table.

My last three Tophat questions were meant to poll how the students felt about the research session, what they had learned, and how they might improve the session.  I only had one student who said they would have preferred a more traditional demonstration, and many students said the session could have been improved with donuts and food (I did give them a 10-minute break to go to the coffee shop in Alden).    Many felt tired after the three hours, and as their instructor, I definitely was exhausted. Most seemed to feel inspired and confident that they had a good enough grasp of the resources to do well on their marketing project, and I was pleased to see groups of students working together, teaching each other, and doing relevant research for their project.

My favorite piece of feedback was a great finale to the class, this week, and this post.  The student posted:

“Chad knows his stuff. What a guy. I might love him.”


  1. Congrats, Chad, on the successful class! Thank you for sharing the orientation questions and generally providing us with your lesson plan details. Always love seeing how other folks teach specialized research.

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