Montana State University

MSU wins award for use of innovative active-learning classrooms

November 3, 2014 -- MSU News Service

Students work through group exercises in a Wilson Hall TEAL classroom. Montana State University has won an innovation in teaching technology award from the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium for its use of technology-enhanced active learning, or TEAL, classrooms. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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BOZEMAN – Montana State University has won an innovation in teaching technology award from the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium for its use of technology-enhanced active learning, or TEAL, classrooms.

The award is recognition of MSU’s innovations in teaching with technology as part of the university’s effort to increase the percentage of students who pass their courses and go on to earn their degrees, said Marilyn Lockhart, director of the MSU Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE). MSU’s first TEAL classroom opened in spring 2013 and a second classroom opened in fall semester of the same year.

 “We have seen that the innovative design and use of MSU’s TEAL classrooms has increased student participation and engagement with course content and boosted student success,” Lockhart said. “Research shows that creating classrooms designed for active learning is critical to improving student outcomes and helps them develop skills that prospective employers value.”

During an upcoming Northwest Academic Computing Consortium (NWACC) Instructional Technology Roundtable in Portland, Ore., Lindsey Jackson, project manager with MSU’s Information Technology Center (ITC) who works with Lockhart in the CFE as a doctoral student in adult and higher education, and Marta Yellin, who teaches in a TEAL classroom and is an instructor in MSU’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, will receive the award on behalf of MSU. Jackson will also give a presentation on MSU’s TEAL experience.

The TEAL classrooms offer students and professors a learning environment where the lectern is gone and professors move among teams of nine students sitting at one of five round, networked tables. Designed to bolster collaboration among students, the tables are linked to wall-mounted screens or monitors around the classroom, allowing students and professors to share mathematical proofs, chemical formulas or physics equations with their entire work group or class.

During spring 2013, 380 undergraduate students with majors in seven colleges enrolled in 14 classes. These classes included four sections of introductory statistics, three sections of introductory algebra, two education classes, and one section each of horticulture, engineering, political science, chemistry and geography. By the following spring, 850 students had enrolled in 27 TEAL-based classes, including eight sections of introductory stats, six of intro algebra and one of advanced math topics, as well as classes in education, business, geography, English literature, physics, engineering, chemistry and biochemistry.

Lockhart said the results were encouraging right from the start, and they were especially pronounced for students in statistics 1 and introductory algebra, both of which are common stumbling blocks for first-year students. Over the six previous semesters an average of 56 percent of students received A, B or C grades in statistics 1, but during spring of 2013, that number rose to 86 percent in the TEAL-taught statistics 1 classes. Students taking introductory algebra also showed a jump in success, with an improvement in A, B or C grades to 81 percent from 56 percent the previous six semesters.

Jerry Sheehan, MSU’s chief information officer, said the impressive numbers make a compelling case study and the NWACC award should serve to amplify MSU’s campus-wide commitment to bringing the innovative technology and teaching techniques to its students.

“The award recognizes our institutional investment in the TEAL classrooms and the explicit demonstration of their impact on student performance,” Sheehan said. “It’s also important to remember the multi-party partnership that makes TEAL successful – instructors willing to teach differently, students engaging in the classroom differently, technology investments by MSU to give them leading-edge tools, and objective evaluation of performance by the Center for Faculty Excellence.”

The award validates MSU’s push to implement more active learning environments on campus and holds MSU up as a model for what is possible when the faculty and administration work together to give students the opportunity to succeed, Lockhart said.

“It started from a commitment on the part of the provost’s office, and from that point we saw a tremendous effort from all across campus to see MSU put leading-edge technology for the active-learning experience onto the menu of options for our students,” Lockhart said.

David Singel, MSU’s associate provost, agreed, pointing to the crews from Facilities Services, ITC, the registrar’s office, various academic committees, as well as individual faculty and staff members who were critical to bringing TEAL classrooms to MSU.

“In addition to the pioneering efforts of the faculty who taught in these rooms, and all of the people in (Center for Faculty Excellence) who led and supported their efforts, and followed through with a scholarly analysis of its impact, it’s important to remember all of the people who didn't hesitate for a nanosecond when approached to undertake a very aggressive timeline for construction of these spaces,” Singel said. “It may seem like the TEAL classrooms sprang forth, fully formed, from the ether, but that was because of heroic efforts from numerous faculty and staff.”

Lockhart and Jackson said they hoped MSU’s TEAL experience would inspire those attending the NWACC Instructional Technology Roundtable. According to Lockhart and Jackson, who have presented MSU’s TEAL case study to a number of conferences across the county, surveys of students coming out of the TEAL experience show that an overwhelming percentage of them feel engaged and excited and come away with a positive experience. The positive responses and increased student success correlate across disciplines.

“It’s great to see that there is an excitement across campus about TEAL and departments are interested in renovating classrooms to incorporate these active-learning teaching methods, which allow for very student-focused and student-driven classes,” Jackson said. “It’s also very inspiring, from my perspective as a student and staff member, to see MSU investing in such exciting and innovative facilities and approaches to teaching, especially when the focus is student success.”

Contact: Marilyn Lockhart, (406) 994-4555, lockhart@montana.edu.