New learning space offers more than a ‘fancy classroom’

A new project from Western’s Teaching Support Centre promises to bring an innovative, state-of-the-art teaching space to campus, one that will revamp the classroom experience for students and faculty alike.

Western Active Learning Space (WALS), a new, general-use classroom currently under construction in the basement of the University Community Centre (UCC), is the result of a Productivity and Innovation Fund grant, valued at roughly $250,000, from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The university has matched the grant to assist in the creation of this new classroom, marking “the beginning of a new era in student-centred active learning and technology-enhanced teaching,” said Stephanie Oliver, an assistant on the WALS project, who completed her PhD in English at Western this year.

“It is much more than a fancy classroom with all the bells and whistles. The focus in this classroom is as much about active learning and collaboration, as it is about technology,” said Wendy Crocker, a curriculum and e-learning specialist in the Teaching Support Centre.

The room features an open-concept space in which there is no front or back of the room. A handful of tables are evenly dispersed, set up around short-throw projectors and boards. Each table has its own laptop and accommodates up to six students.

The classroom, once completed, will also feature an adjacent observation room, making the space somewhat of a lab where research can be conducted on pedagogy and technology enhanced learning.

“What makes WALS special is the focus on student-centred learning and collaboration and a shift in pedagogy from a traditional lecture style to students being involved in their own learning,” Crocker said.  “Students are on much like a teacher is on. There’s very much an expectation that you’re going to participate.

“You want students engaged in their own learning. You want them exploring, learning, using the internet as a tool, using Blackboard Collaborate to talk to other groups of students or other institutions. Being able to all focus on that together – we don’t have that kind of facility at Western yet. This is blazing the trail.”

Because the room is set up with no front or back, the instructor must find a way to continually engage with everyone, she explained. The set-up also means students can’t be passive observers in the classroom because they can’t hide out in the back.

“WALS is kind of a play on words, because we also wanted to say that this is a classroom that’s going to transcend typical classroom walls, and take learning beyond a fixed space,” Crocker continued.

“And this is one of the few spaces that’s been built since the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation, so we wanted to ensure this was a classroom where anyone could participate, with room for assistive devices, dogs.”

Students and faculty from all disciplines have come forward expressing interest. They see WALS as an innovative way to structure teaching and learning, Oliver added.

The UCC classroom will officially open in the fall. In the meantime, a smaller model of it exists within the Teaching Support Centre, inside the D.B. Weldon Library, where there will be an open house from 12-2 p.m. Monday, April 14. Drop-in sessions for students and faculty will follow during the week.

“Come hook-up and see what this will do,” Crocker said.

A WALS website, located at, will go live next week and there will be online and in-person support available to those who wish to try out the space, Oliver added.