Autumn 2014 / Feature
Incredible Impact – in Engineering

Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms foster collaboration, active learning and accelerated innovation


Photo:Liam Sharp

Prof. Steven Thorpe builds hands-on experiences for engineering students

Things move quickly in Prof. Steven Thorpe’s fourth-year engineering design course. At one desk, students are building a model fuel cell. At another, they are conducting research online while jotting down formulae and diagrams. These hands-on assignments don’t work as well as they could in the traditional classrooms now in use. “I liken my role to the conductor of an orchestra with many moving parts,” says Thorpe. “The pace is dynamic, but the physical environment is not.”

Creating new spaces conducive to active learning (in contrast to traditional lecture-centric classrooms) is part of a recent pedagogical shift in engineering education. The aim, says Thorpe, is to encourage intentional thinking about the activities in the tutorials, rather than relying on passive note-taking which often results in poor information retention. “Ultimately it means a whole new way to teach and learn,” he says.

The new Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering is U of T’s response to the sweeping changes taking place in engineering teaching and learning. The building will include dynamic and flexible environments that break down artificial barriers between teacher and student, fostering collaboration and encouraging active learning and accelerated innovation.

The centre will feature six Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) rooms, including one funded by a donation from members of the Faculty’s Singapore Malaysia alumni group. “TEAL rooms will be critical to supporting the design work that has become integral to engineering courses,” says Thorpe. The rooms feature movable chairs and counter-height group tables serviced by multiple screens that allow for a variety of configurations and easy movement. State-of-the-art screens will surround the room so that they are accessible to every student.

MEET THE DONORS
Singapore Malaysia Alumni Group
As a graduate student at U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering in the 1960s, C.K. Chang (MEng 1968) studied fluid dynamics and other subjects in a typical classroom, with the lecturer at the front of the room, talking to students sitting in rows. When Dean Cristina Amon shared plans for the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship during a visit to Singapore, Chang was impressed – especially by the innovative Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) rooms.“I am sure I speak for others of my generation when I say I wish we could have studied in such classrooms,” says Chang. “The design is perfectly suited for engineering design work and for the important collaboration that takes place in the classroom.” Chang, an active leader with the Faculty’s Singapore Malaysia alumni group, mobilized a diverse group of alumni from academe, government and corporate sectors in the region to raise funds for a TEAL room in the new building. They beat their goal by 20 per cent and the room will be named the Singapore Malaysia Alumni Room in their honour.

“We see the TEAL rooms as almost a lab unto themselves where teaching happens and new ideas are generated, debated, prioritized and executed by students,” says Chang. “This is how it happens in the modern working world, so why not train students to develop these skills from the outset.”

Read all four stories in this series about gifts to the Boundless campaign and the powerful impact they are having:

> Turning subject-matter experts into journalists
> Ethiopia’s sixth pediatric surgeon will share what she’s learned
> Ensuring educational choice for undergraduate students
> The classroom of the future will help engineers get hands-on


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