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GRAND SCALE: The former faculty dining room in North Hall has been converted to a "SCALE-UP" classroom for physics, fitness and environment classes.

SRU introduces 'SCALE-UP' classroom

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In the traditional college classroom, the professor lectures from the front of the room, with rows of students taking notes.

A new two-way approach is unfolding in Slippery Rock University's first "SCALE-UP" collaborative learning classroom in North Hall, where everything from seating assignments to interaction between students and professors is part of the technology of the room.

Physics, exercise and rehabilitative sciences and geography, geology and the environment will offer classes this fall in the former faculty dining room, which the University remodeled and equipped with 36 computers, 36 digitized tablets, a sound system and six wall display screens.

SCALE-UP stands for Student-Center Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies. The philosophy behind the "flip" is the teacher functions as a learning facilitator, while students become "teachers" by working in teams and collaborating on assignments and activities. They solve problems and share observations and discoveries with one another.

"The educational research shows most college students only retain/gain about 20 percent of knowledge learned in traditional lecture classes," said Ben Shaevitz, SRU professor of physics who suggested the group approach. "The basic idea is to make the learning in lecture more interactive/engaging/participatory. Physical education classes and humanities discussions and internships are this way - so why not the lecture?"

Physics education researchers have studied the methods used in teaching and have found that between 40 and 60 percent of knowledge retention can occur with the interactive style of teaching, Shaevitz said.

"The collaborative/interactive approach helps give students a sense of ownership in the learning process," he said. "They are not being taught - the system is set up to help them learn. There is quite a distinction between teaching and learning."

The classroom blends historic checkerboard flooring and stained glass arches with upgraded technology and new furniture.

Technology includes six data projectors, an iPad with an interactive whiteboard and software facilitating computer teamwork and a smart podium with a camera to detect pen touch for display on the flat-screen displays. SRU readied the room with 11 round tables.

Shaevitz said one advantage to the flip method of learning is students are given the responsibility for "learning" the course content. Instead of just being told content information like in a traditional lecture setting, students in the flipped classroom actively engage in the content. The professor provides activities, materials, tools and support. The students master the material by "doing," not just being "told."

Instead of the lecture-oriented layout with an instructor in front of the class, the new classroom places the professor's desk in the middle. He or she facilitates and structures activities, asks and answers questions, and moves around the room to guide the students.

Integrating technology with round tables and an innovative design creates an environment where collaborative learning can occur more easily, he said. Offering a space that was designed specifically for collaboration serves to emphasize the interactive engagement style of the flipped course.

Students can see the six wall display screens from anywhere in the room, making it easier for all students to participate in group activities. The layout creates an environment where students become colleagues.

While he did not invent the "SCALE-UP" concept, Shaevitz said SRU is embracing the collaborative-learning space trend. Many educators believe students learn better when they are actively involved.

Moving away from long lectures to active learning helps students synthesize information, he said.

"I will lecture in this room for maybe 10 minutes, giving little chalk talks," he said. "The other 40 minutes, students will be working with each other on activities and interactively sharing their results. It is a different style of learning, in a physical space that promotes interaction."

Shaevitz said academics use the term upside down pedagogy because the SCALE-UP models turns the traditional idea of instruction on its head. "You have a new paradigm of teaching where the professor is not in charge," he said.

Shaevitz said he would teach introductory physics courses in the classroom. GGE will offer environmental problems and exercise science will teach fitness.

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