Active Learning Classrooms at Queen’s

It’s difficult, as a student, to conceive of a future for teaching and learning at Queen’s that we may not share in. We have thoughts about what we would like to change, perhaps. Concerns, and wishes, but these are rarely realized for us in the flurry of academics and student life. Those who work on rooms like these, designing spaces to engage generations of students, are the stewards of those quiet concerns and thoughts. So thank you.

Active learning is a pivotal shift in the way academia works. Traditionally, the active part of the learning process is thought to happen in the student’s mind, where information can coalesce into meaningful ideas in an organic way. Understanding that, when we integrate that process, that ‘active experience’ into the very space we are teaching, then something special happens – that valuable, organic ‘moment’ in learning becomes something that can be thought of as a more ongoing state, or experience. That, is pretty cool.

Of course, this is just the goal. The horizon, if you will. And these classroom spaces are just the next step. Integrating technology requires adaptation – there is a learning curve. Likewise, when we are ‘activating’ a campus, pivoting those integral assumptions about where and how that coalescence happens, we have to remember it is a process.

Ellis Hall Active Learning Classroom

In the latest James Bond movie, double-0-seven and a younger ‘Q’ quip to each other that youth is no guarantee of innovation and that age is no guarantee of efficiency. Similarly it is not simply the implementation of technology and unconventional spaces that guarantees better learning. It is the spirit in which these innovations are used that will drive us towards our goals. The investment in inspiring, training, and motivating the people who will use these classrooms will return not only in learning outcomes being checked off a list, but an atmosphere where we tell students ‘anything is possible’.

One part of this process is acknowledging the shared role students and educators have in operating the classroom. Professors must understand the technology and how best to leverage it, and students must take these efforts seriously.

Ellis Hall Active Learning Classroom

Another aspect is that as our University investigates the spaces it is comprised of, addressing maintenance and remodeling, it is important to consider our mission of being a cutting edge academy in Canada. If we want Queen’s students to be the leaders of tomorrow, we must remember that in the design of our spaces today. This space is a great example of that.

We want Queen’s to be a hub of innovation in Ontario, and as an academic institution a lot of that desire manifests itself in telling students about innovation. The funnel model is something my colleagues and I have talked about for a while now. We want all students to have a wide, inspirational base level of knowledge about innovation and entrepreneurship on campus so that they may choose to ‘move down the funnel’, and channel their interests later on. Classroom spaces like these are an integral part of casting that wide net, and getting students thinking in unconventional and stimulating ways.

Students desperately want to be more engaged in their learning. This space does that. Friends of mine who have used this space unanimously agree the experience has been positive.

Active Learning Space 333

I look at where I am right now and my experiences as a student, and I think that what has kept me excited and energetic about learning is those ‘active’ moments. Where ideas coalesce and connect and spark a drive, a thirst for knowledge. By bringing that moment into the design of classroom space, we will be driving a generation of students to innovate, achieve, and above all, learn.


This entry was written by Colin Zarzour, AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner. 

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