By Lauren Sproule, TLS staff writer

For student David Lawrence, there is “no escape” from the chairs one is likely to find in the stereotypical lecture hall. As someone who admits to fidgeting, Lawrence says he quickly loses focus in the traditional lecture setting because his time is spent trying to get comfortable rather than absorbing the information being presented.

However, this changed for Lawrence when he took one of Petra Watzlawik-Li’s seminars lead in room 431 of the Tory Building last year.

Equipped with moveable tables and chairs, adjustable lighting, and multiple audio/visual centres, the room is one of two active learning spaces in the Tory Building. Lawrence says he was “really impressed” with the resources in the room, specifically the number of screens.

“I didn’t have to strain to look at a large screen high above my head. I could freely choose which screen I wanted to pay attention to,” he says.

Watzlawik-Li, who has taught first-year seminars in both the active learning classrooms, says she feels the spaces “create a better community feel” amongst the students and allows them to fully engage with the material, rather than “passively listening.”

The attendance rate was very high for her class in 431 Tory, which Watzlawik-Li says she feels is needed to begin the learning process.

“I think the students felt comfortable and the room had a ‘living room’ feel,” she says, adding that 431 Tory has a carpet, sofa, stools and nice windows.

She continues that the presence of large video monitors around the room was well-suited to her class as she uses a great deal of video when teaching.

“No matter where someone sits in the room, or which way they are facing, they can easily view one of [the monitors],” Watzlawik-Li says. “It also made for a more relaxed atmosphere because students are not all sitting stiffly in rows, facing the front.”

The space also features individual white boards which Watzlawik-Li says “helped [students] focus on what they would say” before presenting their discussion points to the rest of the class.

While the room was clearly not designed with the traditional teaching format in mind – it’s long and narrow without a natural “front” – Watzlawik-Li says this was only an occasional problem given the seminar nature of her class.

She adds that the room even continued to benefit students outside of class time as it quickly became an unofficial study space when they would stay behind to ask her questions.

Once it became apparent there was no class right after hers, Watzlawik-Li says they “created a community of academics working on whatever each individual needed to get done.”

By winter term, Watzlawik-Li says she had made these impromptu study get-togethers an official session called “Procrastination Buster Study Room”. She invited students from both of her classes as well as other students from the Centre for Initiatives in Education, student employees, and colleagues to use the room. And now, the “Procrastination Buster Study Room” is part of the program.

If Watzlawik-Li’s experience in Carleton’s active learning classrooms has inspired you to teach a course in one of the spaces, please contact Teaching and Learning Services at oavptl@carleton.ca to discuss the possibilities.

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