Collaborative learning through better design

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A glimpse into the Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship opening in 2016

In an early morning tutorial, students are racing to complete a daily challenge. But instead of working alone in a computer lab or in extended rows of lecture seating, they’re collaborating at six small tables, surrounded by the latest learning technology.

Welcome to a Technology-Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) room – one of several new hands-on learning spaces for U of T students at the forthcoming Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CEIE), targeted to open in 2016.

The CEIE features prominently in the future landscape of U of T’s downtown campus and showcases innovative and intentional designs that will promote collaborative, hands-on learning. Here’s a glimpse:

Light fabrication facilities

The new light fabrication facilities in the CEIE will allow students to turn their ideas into working prototypes. Large, open-concept rooms hold mechanical and electrical resources as well as 3D printers. The workspaces are conveniently located near collaborative TEAL and design rooms, so that students can quickly move between the planning and production stages of their projects.

With supervision and resources available long after the classroom doors have closed for the day, the facilities are designed to be accessible, and will be used by students for class projects as well as clubs, co-curricular activities, and much more.

“Our students really need a creative construction space in order to go beyond the boundaries of the coursework and into the realm of really creative design,” said Professor Susan McCahan, U of T Engineering’s vice dean, undergraduate. 

TEAL rooms

“There’s a whole slew of research that suggests that collaborative problem-solving, and directed interaction between students, is much more effective as a learning pedagogy than traditional lecturing,” said McCahan.

That’s why plans include up to six TEAL rooms. The new spaces will provide an environment that’s conducive to a more active approach to learning, and one that overcomes the challenges with traditional lecture-centric classroom design. Designed specifically for collaborative, hands-on learning, these rooms are slated to include:

  • counter-height tables that allow professors to engage eye-to-eye with students

  • grouped tables to foster collaborative learning

  • state-of-the-art screens around the room that are accessible to every student

  • power sources for students to run tablets or laptops at their table

McCahan hopes that these new learning spaces will help professors to “think more intentionally about the activities that are going on in the tutorials,” and, ultimately, “to teach differently.”

A centre for collaboration

According to Steve Miszuk, director of planning and infrastructure at U of T Engineering, the new building is designed to encourage collaboration throughout the entire building. Student spaces are concentrated, so individuals and teams can quickly act on new ideas – brainstorming them in the design/meet rooms, creating them in the fabrication facilities and then receiving mentorship to commercialize them in the Entrepreneurship Hatchery.

For many of the Faculty’s interdisciplinary research labs and institutes, offices and workspaces are planned around ‘nerve centres,’ or open areas designed to facilitate interaction and dialogue.

“[The CEIE] is a chance to create a building that is entirely centred on engineering, and on the theme of collaborative learning,” said Miszuk. He noted that the building will even have a 500-seat lecture hall that can be transformed from a traditional theatre to a collaborative environment for students to debate and discuss ideas in teams.

“I think that the theme throughout the entire building is the power of collaboration in learning, creating and innovating,” said McCahan. “Whether you’re talking about the collaborative lecture space, the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, or myriad other spaces, when you put people together into teams, the whole can be greater than the sum.”

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