PALling up to get the most out of new spaces

The launch of a series of purpose-built teaching spaces is on track for Semester 1 2016 as part of the Pilot Active Learning Spaces (PALS) initiative, with participants meeting to share ideas on how to get the most value out of teaching in the pilot rooms. 

The PALS project invites staff members with an interest in collaborative and blended learning to teach in cutting-edge spaces in Semester 1 2016. The pilot process will allow the Learning Environments team to gather user feedback from staff and students that will contribute to a broader, long-term redevelopment of UNSW teaching and learning spaces.

Fourteen staff members from five UNSW faculties have volunteered to participate in the PALS initiative in Semester 1 2016. These staff members will teach their classes in purpose-built pilot spaces that have been designed to support blended, flipped and active modes of learning in which students are front and centre of the educational experience. 

The PALS volunteers congregated at an informal meeting at the end of 2015 to trade ideas on teaching approaches, activities and tools that will deliver effective student centred learning in the PALS pilot spaces. This student-centred approach places the emphasis on active student learning where the focus is on creating knowledge, rather than simply receiving information, and is built on practical activity, collaboration and interactive approaches to education. 

“One of the most exciting things about these rooms is the opportunity it gives us to consider previously unexplored possibilities in terms of student-centred learning,” said Associate Professor Cath Ellis, the Associate Dean of Education. 

“The opportunity it gives us is to use this space to focus on student activity, rather than teacher activity, and letting students put ideas to work and turn theory into practice.” 

Discussions at the PALS meeting revolved around techniques, strategies and activities that teaching staff can try out using the flexible layouts and cutting-edge technologies that have been integrated into the spaces. Volunteers were encouraged to try new things without fear of failure and to share their outcomes with one another and with PALS administrators. 

“There’s a real sense in which we can learn from each other, so the evaluation component and the peer learning component are where the real benefits are,” Associate Professor Ellis said. 

As well as delivering new and vibrant spaces, the PALS pilot will provide volunteers with extensive safety nets, including physical space, academic and technological support services, to help them maximise both their teaching experiences and the learning outcomes of their students. 

“We’re not just building the rooms and sort of chucking the teachers and students in it and saying sink or swim – we’re actually providing the analytical and design development support and the evaluation follow-through to make sure that the risks that people take are well supported,” Associate Professor Ellis said. 

Volunteers will attend an orientation session in the new spaces in early 2016.