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Active learning in Ellis Hall

Active learning in Ellis Hall

Designed to enhance students’ learning experiences, three classrooms in Ellis Hall have been renovated to create new teaching and learning spaces designed for active and collaborative learning.
[Ellis Hall]Students in Melanie Bedore’s social geography seminar take advantage of the whiteboards along the walls of Ellis Hall 319 to complete a learning activity.

Students slowly trickle in to ­Ellis Hall Room 319 slightly before 8:30 on a Thursday morning. Melanie Bedore, the instructor for this upper-year social ­geography seminar, quickly ­rearranges the moveable chairs. Near the door, she slides the chairs to form a small circle; ­farther back, she creates small groups of four chairs.

Dr. Bedore begins the class with a short review of post-modern approaches to social ­justice before moving on to a lighthearted pop quiz based on that week’s readings. To lead the discussion, Dr. Bedore sits within the circle – not behind the podium – a deliberate ­decision on her part.

“I want to convey we are all learning together and I just ­happen to have a few more years of experience. We are all trying to figure out these problems ­together,” she says.

After the quiz, Dr. Bedore introduces the “learning activity,” the focal point of that day’s class. The students form five random groups of three or four students. From the assigned readings, each group charts an era of Canada’s social policy. Using the whiteboard that rings two walls of the classroom, they record their findings on a timeline that Dr. Bedore sketched out before class.

Soon, the odour from the whiteboard markers overpowers the new carpet smell as the students jot down their points and fill in the timeline. The students then present their work and start a discussion.

As a concurrent education student, Candice Thwaites, ConEd’14, enjoys the group work ­activities that Ellis Hall 319 facilitates. She says Dr. Bedore’s approach is similar to a technique she learned about in an education class: think, pair, share. She finds it helpful to hear how her peers are grappling with the course material.

“It’s a lot easier to stay focused on what’s going on in the class because it’s not too much of you staring at the teacher for hours. It’s a lot more interactive which makes things ‘stickier’ in your brain. As I am going back and studying for my quiz the next week, I remember pretty much everything ­because we are actually working with the material. It’s easier to remember things when you have this visual aid.”

The 90-minute class comes to an end, but most of the students hang around to discuss their group project. Some look over the whiteboard and one student takes a picture of the work for ­future reference.

After answering students’ questions, Dr. Bedore sits down in one of the moveable chairs and reflects on how she prepared for this course, her first teaching experience. She says she was considering active teaching strategies well before she was ­assigned Ellis Hall Room 319.

“I wanted to teach the course in a more animated way. When I found out I got the room, I started thinking I could do active teaching even better given the physical layout and the whiteboard,” she says.

“However, I am starting to get a sense of how rewarding the learning activity can be for students. The activities force them to go deeper into the ­readings and pull out information and key points they believe their peers need to know.”

Explore two more classrooms in a longer version of this story in the Queen's News Centre.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]