Developing the Technology Enabled Learning Lab (TELL) Concept

The Technology Enabled Learning Lab (TELL) is a concept for a highly flexible space in which students and their lecturers can work together in small groups on a variety of different types of collaborative and creative work, while making use of a range of digital and analogue facilities within the room. The concept developed out of the full range of learning spaces work that we undertook during the 2016/17 academic year, but was especially informed by two pieces of work in particular:

SCALE UP table in Charles Street

SCALE UP room with each table designed to accommodate 9 students working mainly in small groups.

During the 2016/17 academic year, we worked closely with colleagues in Engineering to help them get the best from their new SCALE UP rooms. These rooms are set up in a very specific way to support the requirements of the SCALE UP approach and requires students and lecturers to work in quite a defined process, so, while it is very student focused, it isn’t a particularly ‘flexible’ learning space. The other piece of work that informed the TELL concept was our staff survey regarding the PC labs. While this showed that there was general satisfaction with how PC labs meet current requirements for teaching, there was an undercurrent of staff wanting to do more collaborative work and blend digital and analogue techniques that isn’t always practical or possible with the layout of most of our PC labs.

Combined, these two pieces of work showed that there was a requirement for a type of learning space with flexible furniture, so that it can be reconfigured according the needs of the session or activity, while still providing groups with access to a PC. This is the key principle of the TELL, a space that can be easily reconfigured according to need that also provides facilities for digital and analogue working to support collaborative and creative working by students with lecturers primarily acting as facilitators.

Benefits and Challenges of the TELL

As with any type of learning space, the TELL presents both benefits and challenges to learning and teaching. Many of these are a result of the room encouraging a more active learning approach, but some are specific to this type of room, particularly when contrasted with more established types of learning space.

Benefits

  • The TELL offers a space for students to work collaboratively, with technology discretely available to them as and when they need it. This means that students, and their lecturers, are able to decide during the session whether PCs are necessary or whether students should be working on whiteboards or flipcharts. This enables a greater level of creativity and individuality to be achieved within the room, while also meaning that the lecturer can decide what would be most appropriate on a per-session basis rather than having to book a traditional PC lab and being constrained by it.
  • The TELL encourages students to share their work with their peers and give and receive feedback. By providing open space and using screen sharing technology, students are able to explain their work to the rest of the cohort and receive comments and alternative perspectives from both their lecturer and other students.
  • The rooms are designed to support student creation of media artefacts, such as videos, sound recordings, presentation recordings, etc. These could be used to allow more flexible assessment, such as by enabling students to submit a recording of a presentation rather than giving it live, or for students personal use as a method of capturing their working process for future reflection.

Challenges

  • The TELL is designed to encourage the students to take responsibility for their learning by exploring concepts, creating artefacts, working with peers and sharing their new understanding with the rest of the cohort. This can present a difficulty for some students who are uncomfortable with this way of working and prefer to told what they need to know rather than discover it for themselves.
  • Similar to students, lecturers may also initially find the need to facilitate students’ own learning rather than provide the content they need a challenge. This is especially the case for topics that are highly theoretical or require a solid understanding of some foundational knowledge, however even these issues can generally be overcome.
  • Noise is usually a good sign in an active learning classroom such as the TELL (up to a point, anyway), as it shows that the students are engaged in the work. However, this same noise can be a major source of distraction so it is important to ensure that needless noise is not being created and that any noise dampening features of the room, such as movable soundproofing screens, are being used. This is particularly important when students are creating media artefacts.
  • Some students may struggle to take part in group discussions and collaborative activities, possibly due to cultural differences or a disability, and so not be actively involved in the session. As a result, it may be necessary to either adjust the activities so that these students are better able to take part, or spend some time with the students and the other members of the their group to help them become more confident in contributing.

 

The TELL at SHU

Photo of the TELL room in Owen 223 showing several of the group stations with associated screen.

The TELL/Active Learning Classroom in Owen 223

We have been able to develop a TELL room in Owen 223 as part of an AV refresh in May 2017. As our first attempt at creating a TELL, we have worked with the existing constraints of the room to create a space that offers some separation between groups while still allowing the lecturer to identify groups that need their guidance and easily move around the space. There is more information about the room on this site, and we hope to work with staff teaching in the room over the 2017/18 academic year to assist them in making full use of the new opportunities it offers to their teaching. An evaluation of the room will be undertaken at the end of the academic year and will be used to inform any future TELL developments at SHU.

 

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