The other day, Sophie Poudrier from APOP was helping me record a little webinar about our college’s new low-tech active learning classroom (ALC). I organised the talk around a series of questions Aurélie Finck, a Pedagogical Engineer in charge of designing physical learning spaces at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne in France, had asked me a few weeks before. Here is my translation of her questions:

Learning Space Questionnaire

Actions Taken Towards Creating the New Space

  • What pushed you to create this new space?
  • How did you choose which room to renovate? Why did you choose that room over other spaces?
  • Who is the room for? Are there certain users that have priority?
  • By whom and how was the space rethought?
  • Why did you choose these particular furnishings?
  • Why did you choose these specific technologies?
  • What were the most important aspects you were looking for in this new space? What were your priorities in this new space?

Functioning of the Space Once It Is in Use

  • How do you manage access to the room?
  • Do the people using the room fulfill your expectations (if you had any)?
  • Would you change something today in this space? What would you do differently?
  • What would you keep the same?
  • Did users adapt easily to the space? Did you have mentors, guides, or tutorials regarding the use of the space?

Their institution was trying to decide what kinds of spaces to invest in that would best suit their teachers’ needs, and she had read about the new ALC at Cegep de Sept-Îles in the Profweb article. The APOP webinar will eventually be available online, if ever you want to hear it, but my favourite part happened after the talk was over and Sophie asked me why we call our ALC “low-tech” when there is obviously still technology available in the room.

“Hmmm. Good question,” I answered her. “I probably should have started the talk by discussing that!”

You see, I had the clever idea to film the talk in the ALC classroom, so the whole time I am talking you can see a cart filled with portable computers in the background behind me, and the screen where the talk was being projected, including speakers to hear Sophie’s question and obviously there is a camera attached to a computer that is filming me, so for a low-tech ALC there is still a fair amount of digital technology lurking around the room.

The big differences between a low-tech ALC and a high-tech ALC are the writable walls and the technology integrated into the group tables.

In a low-tech ALC most of the writable wall surfaces are non-digital. That means either traditional felt-pen type white boards, or some other writable surface, for example, glass over pale-coloured painted surfaces. A key feature of ALCs is the ability for each small group to have a place to make their thinking visible to each other to facilitate mutual understanding and prompt learning. These large writing surfaces can also serve as presentations to share group work with the entire class. In a high-tech ALC these writable walls are usually interactive white-boards connected to a network where you have the potential to share one group’s take on the problem onto all of the other whiteboards so everyone can get a close-up of their ideas. The basic difference between low-tech and high-tech ALC writable surfaces is that the first kind could be used during a power outage! 🙂

The group tables in a low-tech ALC have no permanently installed digital equipment or wiring connections; they are simply tables, although often specially shaped to facilitate interaction between the group participants, and also to give easy viewing access to the designated writable wall space. In comparison, a high-tech ALC might have computers permanently installed on the tables, or the tables might provide wiring in the form of places to connect to Internet, USB connections for personal devices, and power outlets. Another possibility would be tables with one cordless keyboard and mouse that are connected to computers placed off the table and run the projector and interactive whiteboard affiliated with that group. The basic difference between a low-tech ALC table and a high-tech ALC table is that one is just a table; the other is a table with connections!

Both the low and high-tech ALCs are designed to support small group collaboration. The high-tech ALC provides students with access to the Internet, endless tools, and the ability to share and save their ideas. The low-tech ALC costs less and may be a less intimidating space for teachers who are not as comfortable with digital tools. The low-tech ALC may be a nice option for schools to start with, and then they can move on to a high-tech ALC once their teachers get accustomed to working in an active learning environment.

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