Digital instruction provides educational gains

Blended learning has long been used in countries like Canada, Australia and the United States. Now this teaching method is also being used to a greater extent in Swedish higher education institutions. As part of this effort, an Active Learning Classroom has been recently inaugurated at the Department of Physics.

Blended learning refers to a combination of traditional classroom methods and more modern digital activities. Digitally-based teaching might mean that students can practice doing customised exercises on their computers and get instant feedback and answers about whether the syntax is correct — that is, if mathematical symbols, parentheses and so on correlate as well as the solution to the problem. There can also be a common forum on the Web where students and teachers can discuss problems and solutions.

PROFESSOR STELLAN ÖSTLUND at the Department of Physics has made use of blended learning in courses for several years. He is responsible for programming the students’ exercises.
‘Two years ago everyone sat tinkering on their pocket calculators, but now the students respond through formulas and mathematical expressions and not through numbers’, says Östlund

It’s time-consuming to programme an exercise with the accompanying prompts and correct answers, but when it’s done, students can practice and teachers can easily follow each student’s development. Advantages of digital learning are that students can receive increased feedback and more quickly see the solution to a problem, but the preparatory work on the part of the teacher takes a lot of time, Stellan Östlund feels.
‘It’s important to consider the educational benefits and not regard blended learning as a way to save money’, he says.

In a step to augment the opportunities for blended learning, the Department of Physics has recently inaugurated an ALC. ALC, which stands for Active Learning Classroom, is a classroom where the physical learning environment and the equipment are optimised to promote more active learning on the part of students. Among other things, this means that all equipment in the department’s classroom is mounted on wheels so that it can be easily moved and that there are TV monitors at each table where students can plug in their computers. The intention is to create a good environment for discussions and problem solving in small groups.

MALIN ROSVALL is engaged in teacher training to become an instructor of mathematics, physics and technology at the upper level of compulsory school. During her education she has studied courses in modern physics and in environmental physics in the ALC room, where teachers Ingvar Albinsson and Jonas Enger took advantage of the room’s possibilities.
‘The room made it possible for us to carry on discussions in small groups without raising the sound volume too high because we could screen off part of the room’, she says. ‘We could also do simulations on the computer that could be displayed on a big screen so that everyone in the group could watch the same simulation and discuss various aspect that had an effect or why something turned out as it did.’

In the room, each group also has access to its own whiteboard in case students want to make a note or do calculations together. Malin Rosvall is positive about the arrangement that allows students to view a lecture on video before the class and then work with the material at the assigned class time.‘That way you have the opportunity to have a discussion with the lecturer and get help with what you find difficult’, she says. ‘Overall, I really think that the ALC room provided an opportunity to learn in new ways, and as a prospective teacher, I would like to use this in my future profession.’

Blended learning and Active Learning Classroom (ALC)

Blended learning refers to a mixture of in person traditional classroom methods with more modern digital solutions. An arrangement, for example, could involve giving students an assignment on video before a class and spending class time discussing the solution in small groups and with the teacher.

ALC stands for Active Learning Classroom, a classroom that has been designed specifically for blended learning activities. The environment in the room supports and strengthens student active learning by motivating students to become learning resources for each other. The room is equipped with round tables and there are TV monitors and whiteboards at each table, all to facilitate displaying digital media and promote discussion in various groupings.