Acclimating to the Room
Think about where you will stand.
With no clear “front of room” you will need to decide where to connect your laptop, where you will present from, and where you will stand in the room. Most faculty use a slide advancer and roam the room, making eye contact with students, keeping groups on track, and making sure no one is hiding in the corners. See: Strategies to Address Common Challenges When Teaching in an Active Learning Classroom.
Half the class will have their backs to you.
At first this can seem off-putting to you and to the students. Tell them it’s ok not to follow you with their eyes while you are talking and walking about the room, and that it’s okay to look at their group monitors and their peers while you lecture. However, you will need to establish a central point in the room and train the students to look there when you need to point to something on a slide, or get their full attention for an announcement or instructions.
Bring your own laptop, and train students to bring theirs.
Most iFLEX classrooms do not have a computer in the room. This allows for flexibility, and many faculty prefer to present from their own laptops anyway. When they get used to it students enjoy using their own laptops for small group work. But be advised: you and your students may need adapters to connect laptops to the group monitors. Newer laptops will have HDMI ports and connect without adapters, but older models or those without ports will need them. Check this ASAP.
Bring a bell or something loud to capture their attention.
The classroom gets noisy when everyone is talking in groups. Train students to stop what they’re doing when they hear the chime. This could be used to signal time’s up, to clarify instructions, or to point out a particular group’s work. You can also “mute” the monitors (turn off image) to get them to stop talking.
Bring your own whiteboard markers and wipes.
Campus is working on addressing this, but for now you will need to bring your own markers and those needed for students to work in groups. EXPO or similar quality markers in dark colors show best and last longest. Baby wipes or soft cloths work well for cleaning the glass boards.
Teaching and Learning
Help students understand why this classroom is good for them.
Students are used to traditional classrooms and don’t know what’s expected of them in this new type of room. They may also be resistant to working in groups. Spend some time in the first week discussing the benefits of active engagement and participation in class and with their peers. A few simple questions as outlined in First Day Questions helps students to understand why learning to work effectively in groups is better for their learning and their job opportunities.
Shorten lectures to allow more in-class time for group work.
The number one thing you can do to make teaching in this room more successful is to reduce your slide lectures (or break them into shorter segments) and make 5-10 min intervals available for small group discussions and learning activities. See: Excellent Suggestions for Improving Power Points.
Keep them active and engaged.
Students may gravitate to far corners because they are harder for you to reach or see into. Rearrange groups periodically, and offer students opportunities to work together, walk around the room, see and respond to other groups, and play challenge games. See: 26 Strategies to Support Active & Collaborative Learning. Take advantage of group whiteboards to wake up a tired lesson, delve deeply into a concept, or fill a few minutes when needed. See: Low-Tech Ideas for Active Learning 36-card Set.
Know different ways to use the room monitors.
In most iFLEX classrooms you can: 1) display your slides to all, 2) have small groups work independently on their own monitors, or 3) select an individual group monitor, and show it to all. Some rooms allow you to send one group’s monitor image to another group’s monitor, or split the screen for comparisons. Practice using the room controls to become familiar with these features.
Use group monitors for in-depth learning.
You’ll be surprised by how much content can be mastered in groups. Activities like shared writing where each group works in a shared slide deck (https://tinyurl.com/sampleofsharedslidedeck), close reading of photographs, text, or data, “gallery style” poster presentations, or infographics created with free digital software can all be powerful learning tools. See: Using NYT Times Photos to Teach Close Reading.
Managing Group Behavior
Students sitting in groups expect to do group work.
Fun and interesting group learning activities lead to increased retention and higher teacher evaluations. Ask students to role play, rank or categorize info, solve a set of problems, debate top 3 arguments for and against something, and more. See: Group work: Using Cooperative Learning Groups Effectively, and Group Role Play More Effective than Power Points.
Group roles enhance performance.
Assign group roles on a rotating basis using a sign-up sheet, or have students try out roles such as Recorder, Presenter, Tech Help, or Fact Checker, to give each person in the group a specific job to do See: Group Roles for Group Activities, and Suggested Roles for Group Work.
Create group zones in the room.
In larger iFLEX classrooms it can be helpful to define group zones such as National (whole class), Regional (2-3 small groups combined), and Local (single groups working independently) or North, South, and Central. Students respond very well to these directions and enjoy changes of scene. Label monitors and whiteboards so students know which ones to use for their group.
Rearrange the furniture.
Some iFLEX classrooms lend themselves to rearrangement for different types of group activities. Consider having 2 or 3 different arrangements, such as: auditorium style, conference or debate teams, a large circle of chairs, or everything pushed to the walls for a big open area, and train students to quickly move the tables and chairs into that configuration when asked. Please have them move furniture back to standard style at the end of class.
Write very clear instructions for all group activities.
Telling students to talk among themselves will not yield good results. Tie discussions to a specific product or outcome and tell students exactly how they need to accomplish this task, step by step. Peer evaluation can be an effective group motivator, as can well-written grading rubrics. See: Sample Peer Evaluation Form.
Request a consult: https://tinyurl.com/iflexhelp