Active Learning at Berkeley

Overview of Active Learning

Active learning offers a new way to think about the classroom experience. Rather than the traditional approaches to teaching material,  students actially engage the material they study through reading, writing, talking, listening, and reflecting. In addition, in many traditional classrooms, the layouts of the room reflect an assumption that lecture is the primary mode of instruction. Other, more interactive modes of teaching can be difficult to attempt.  Barriers include fixed seating and line-of-sight issues posed by installed blackboards, screens, and lecterns. While the installation of A/V-IT in classrooms during the previous decade has enhanced the ability for faculty to integrate computer-based presentations into their teaching, the classroom layout and modes of teaching remain essentially the same.

Active Learning Classrooms

Berkeley’s Active Learning classrooms (ALC) are teaching and learning spaces in the general assignment classroom pool that allow the instructor to customize the physical learning environment to meet pedagogical needs.  In an ALC, the room design, flexible furniture, writing surfaces, and technology all support instructor efforts to engage their students in collaborative learning activities.  ALCs also facilitate diverse sizes and groupings of students, creating a flexible and supportive environment for a class to transition seamlessly between an instructor's presentation and active learning pedagogies like facilitated student group work.

Active Learning Strategies

Active Learning Strategies help to initiate learners and faculty into effective ways to engage in activities based on ideas about how people learn. Multiple active learning strategies may be used in each of the active learning designs.

Here’s an annotated list of active learning strategies.

Share Your Expertise With Colleagues
We are launching an “Innovative Teaching Approaches” repository for the Berkeley teaching community and want to hear how you are using active learning strategies to support learning and engagement in your courses. If you have a specific activity or teaching strategy that’s worked well in your classes and you would like to share it with your colleagues, please fill out this short Google form to help others integrate new activities into their own instruction.

Active Learning Designs

Active Learning Designs were created to take key ideas about learning into account and therefore providing support for students as they grapple with and make sense of complex ideas.

Common features Across Active Learning Designs

  • Discourse and Social Interactions
  • Mental models & Manipulation
  • Motivation and Agency

See examples

Active Learning Can Happen Anywhere

Although ALCs facilitate active learning, don't let space be an issue.  Active learning can still occur depending on your individual teaching approach.  At Berkeley, the Center for Teaching & Learning and Educational Technology Services (ETS) offer a variety of consultations to fit your needs.

Get a consultation about using technology in the classroom

Get a pedagogical consultation on bringing active learning into your classroom

Review a menu of consultative services available at Berkeley

Background of ALCs at Berkeley

From 2012 - 2014 ETS partnered with the Office of the Registrar and faculty across campus to pilot an Active Learning Classroom (ALC). The "Test Kitchen", as it was called, was a space for instructors to test the principles of active learning including course pedagogy, teaching techniques, and space requirements with the assistance of instructional support staff. The goal of the project was to better understand how ALCs could be integrated at UC Berkeley.

By Fall 2015, the Office of the Registrar committed to supporting ALCs across campus, and five new General Assignment classrooms have become available to campus instructors.

Active Learning Classrooms at Berkeley

Active Learning Classrooms at UC Berkeley

Requesting an Active Learning Classroom

Scheduling of Active Learning Classrooms (ALC) is a two-step process. 

1. Instructors  are asked to submit a brief one-time application and an optional course syllabus for review and approval of priority registration into an ALC, based on pedagogical alignment. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. Once approved, an instructor remains in the priority pool for future semesters. Please note that having your application approved through this process does not guarantee assignment in an active learning classroom.

2. Each semester, instructors need to talk to your Department Scheduler to request an ALC for your course. As general assignment classrooms, the Office of the Registrar manages requests and assigns courses for the ALCs. Please note that classroom assignments are determined up to a year in advance, so plan ahead when possible. 

Consultations in preparing your application are available from the Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) at teaching@berkeley.edu. For additional support and to discuss ways to incorporate more active learning pedagogies in your courses, contact Brit Toven-Lindsey, Active Learning Specialist, at btoven@berkeley.edu.

In addition, instructors of approved courses should agree to the usage guidelines included in the application. The process and guidelines have been outlined by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Educational Technology Services (ETS), with oversight provided by the Campus Committee on Classroom Policy and Management (CCCPM).

Available Classrooms

To date, there are six general assignment ALCs on campus:

  • Barrows Hall, Room 110, capacity- 54

  • Barrows Hall, Room 118, capacity- 30

  • Barrows Hall, Room 122, capacity- 36

  • Mulford Hall, Room 230, capacity- 30

  • Wheeler Hall, Room 100, capacity- 20

  • Wheeler Hall, Room 212, capacity- 120

Each physical space is designed with furniture and technology that are inviting and flexible, providing more substantive opportunities for instructors and students to engage actively in the teaching and learning process.