Upgrading the learning experience
Investments in classroom upgrades and technology help support modern learning and teaching
Since 2014, the University of Manitoba has invested over $50 million in retrofitting older classrooms, upgrading and expanding classroom technology, and equipping teachers with modern tools for providing an inclusive, adaptable learning environment. This investment in transforming the learning experience through technological and environmental innovation plays a critical role in the fulfillment of the strategic pillars of Our Shared Future, the UM’s interim strategic plan.
Mark Meagher, educational developer for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and sessional instructor in the Faculty of Architecture, has participated in helping renovate older classrooms and upgrading their capabilities to fit a more modern way of learning. Many of the upgrades have been focused on improving the functionality of the classroom and making digital content more accessible and useful.
“I think a lot of these changes are enabling new ways for students to engage with learning and providing new opportunities for instructors,” Meagher says.
Informing many of the classroom renovations has been the concept of “blended learning” – an educational approach combining digital content and face-to-face teaching, allowing students to engage with the material in and outside of the classroom. To make digital content more accessible within the classroom, CATL has partnered with IST and Architectural and Engineering Services to support upgrades to classroom audio and video capabilities, and expanded student access to power outlets for their devices.
“These are simple things, but they do make a big difference in terms of being able to use digital materials in teaching.” Meagher says.
The task of modernizing older classrooms has been a catalyst for rethinking the way the rooms should be used, Meagher says, taking classrooms that may have been designed for a lecture-based approach and looking at how the classroom can be used in other ways. This can include introducing more active learning and small group activities, increasing student engagement, and providing more opportunities for participation and learning than a lecture format.
“Every time that there is a classroom renovation, there is input from faculty in the department,” Meagher says. “There’s always an effort that’s made to understand how faculty are teaching in that space, what is/isn’t working currently, what the needs are. We’ve seen needs change a lot over the last few years. There was a lot of change happening pre-pandemic and then during and since the return to face-to-face teaching there’s been real acceleration of change, in terms of how people are teaching, how faculty are thinking about student engagement and using technology in the work that they do, and so classrooms are having to adapt to those needs.”
Although the pandemic-informed period of remote teaching and learning has been difficult for many faculty and students, Meagher says many students have also benefitted from the flexibility of remote learning and the ability to participate from more than one location and learn in more than one format.
“Just the way that technology and resources were used were accelerated during the pandemic,” Meagher says. “For example, the use of UM Learn as a platform for distributing information to students, course information, readings and other course materials. There was a huge increase in the uptake of these tools, which I expect will continue post-pandemic.”
Josiane Kroll, learning technologies trainer at CATL, says the upgrades and renovations made by the UM have had a profound impact on her classroom, her students and her approach to teaching.
“The adoption of technology in the classroom has changed the way that I teach, and how students learn. We are connected 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, through online platforms,” Kroll says. “Students feel more engaged in the class when I use technologies to explain the content and collect feedback. I use several technologies to teach my classes and the result is students are more connected, engaged, and motivated to learn.”
Computer science student and teaching assistant Bhautik Sojitra says the upgraded software technology has increased efficiency in the classroom for both students and teachers and made communication and discovery simpler and easier.
“Technologies such as Crowdmark™ and UM Learn, which support online submissions of assignments and quizzes, have reduced the amount of work needed for both students and graders,” Sojitra says. “Students can easily communicate with professors and classmates via Piazza and Discussion boards (UM Learn) and discover answers without even asking questions.”
While the period of remote learning and teaching may be over, Meagher says the modernized classrooms and upgraded technology allows teachers to have the best of both worlds, integrating the most effective components of both formats of teaching.
“A lot of what we’ll be working on [at CATL] is looking at how to keep what was successful in remote teaching and learning and combining that with the best of what we know already works in the classroom,” Meagher says.
For instructors who have questions about recent classroom improvements or who are looking for direction on how to integrate these new technologies and methods of teaching into their own classrooms, there will be a range of upcoming workshops available to faculty members, covering a range of topics such as ‘blended teaching and learning’, ‘the flipped classroom’, assessment and student engagement, active learning focused on the classroom environment and the use of technology in the classroom environment.
“Our focus now is on supporting faculty in our return to the classroom,” says Meagher. “We’ll be looking at a whole range of workshops that promote pedagogical methods and technologies that support that return.”