Active learning classrooms are designed to foster an interactive, student-centered learning experience. However, teaching in one is a very different experience from a traditional classroom setting. In order to prepare for teaching in these spaces, consider the following:


Because of their arrangement, active learning rooms lack a central visual focus, compared to more traditional classrooms, making it difficult for instructors to know where to stand for content delivery. In addition, wherever an instructor stands in an ALC, some students will be facing away from them. Instructors have overcome these problems by creating a focal point in the room, such as the main screen. They also develop a cue for getting students' attention so that they will know to turn towards this focal point when necessary.


Active and collaborative learning inevitably results in a great deal of student talk, leading to noisy classrooms. Distractions can be minimized by making sure that student tasks are carefully planned and by holding students accountable for completing those tasks. It is important to remember that noise in and of itself is not an indicator of a classroom problem -- noise often indicates student engagement. It may be helpful to establish a cue or signal that lets students know that you need their attention and should stop talking. 


With any active learning activity there is a possibility that students will not remain instruction-centered. Make sure that the activities you have assigned are challenging and take the full amount of time you have allotted to complete them. Hold students accountable for satisfactory completion of tasks by calling on groups randomly to report or by assigning points to the activity. Consider limiting the number of laptops at each table; this forces students to work together and reduces one of the biggest distractions facing students in any classroom situation: surfing the internet.


  1. Establish a comfortable atmosphere
  • Have students wear name tags or have name plates during class at the beginning of the semester. It helps the students and the instructor learn everyone's names and makes for a friendlier environment
  • Encourage table-wide conversation

  2. Help students take ownership for their own learning

  • Encourage students talking, rather than instructor talking (e.g., have students explain things rather than the instructor)
  • Demonstrate to students that their contributions are an important part of the class by incorporating contributions and collaborative efforts into future lectures (e.g., Ask students what they learned and add their responses to the lesson and include these answers in a study guide)

 3. Hold students accountable both as groups and as individuals

  • Incorporate a random selection drawing method to call on students
  • Implement frequent assessments and knowledge checks
  • Clearly identify and display time limits for the class and activities
  • Begin visiting groups immediately to make sure that students don't delay starting an activity


One feature that makes the ALC special is the ability to project from the instructor station and/or from any of the desktops at any table, to the whole room or to the table's dedicated monitor. Although we may not think of them as "technology," the abundance of whiteboards in the ALC also offers additional teaching/learning opportunities. 

Instructors: Build in use of the technology and whiteboards as you plan your course and activities. Train students to use the technology early on and make it an expectation that computers are hooked up for group work at the very beginning of class

Possible Uses

  • Increase student participation and engagement by calling on student groups to project the outcomes of their work (e.g., answers to questions, resources they have found, collaborative writing, etc.) to the whole room 
  • Move around the room and talk with groups as they work. Project particularly good work so that the whole class can see it. Or, if a group has encountered a specific problem that others are likely to encounter as well, project it so you (or they) can work through it with the class.
  • Project a graph related to current content on all the monitors, then call on a team or table to describe what it represents.
  • Ask teams to use the whiteboards to brainstorm a process before committing to it, to create a quick mind map, or to work through a math problem.
  • Summarize discussions by using the computers or the whiteboards