Eight months later, TEAL classroom takes off

A Technology Enabled Active Learning classroom was installed January at 17 Hillhouse Ave.
A Technology Enabled Active Learning classroom was installed January at 17 Hillhouse Ave. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

For some professors, an innovative Technology Enabled Active Learning classroom may be replacing the lecture hall.

Yale’s first TEAL classroom — decked out with 14 round tables, eight whiteboards, five projection screens, 14 flat screen displays and numerous microphones and video cameras — opened in January at 17 Hillhouse Ave. and is designed to facilitate more innovative teaching styles. Randi McCray, a member of Yale Information Technology Services who oversees the TEAL classroom, said feedback from those who used the space last semester has been “extremely positive” and students and professors interviewed said the classroom has successfully fostered a seminar-like environment even for larger class sizes.

Still, some professors interviewed said the prospect of teaching in the TEAL Classroom could be “intimidating” for some faculty members because of the complexity of the room’s technology and because the space requires professors to rework the way they teach a course.

“It’s more of a theatrical production than a lecture is,” said physics professor Simon Mochrie, who is teaching Physics 170 in the TEAL classroom this fall. “It’s tremendously flexible what’s possible in there, but along with flexibility comes complexity, and managing the technology is certainly something that we need to learn how to do.”

Mochrie said he was initially nervous about the prospect of teaching in the TEAL format, but encouragement from representatives of the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching as well as the Yale Teaching Center convinced him to overcome his concerns.

Jennifer Frederick, co-director of the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching, said the TEAL classroom takes professors out of their comfort zone. They need to completely rethink how they use class time because the the classroom’s layout makes traditional lecturing impractical.

“For some people that’s going to be a barrier or will at least slow them down,” she said. “I think over time it’s definitely going to catch on. The University has to be serious about providing some training and lowering the barrier for interest.”

Only three courses are using the TEAL classroom this semester, but a series of workshops, sessions and special events will be held in space this fall, McCray said. She added that interest in utilizing TEAL “continues to increase each week.”

Frederick, who teaches a graduate course in the classroom, said she can push a button that is connected to a video camera and the footage of what one table is working on will appear on all the screens.

Though the TEAL classroom was designed primarily with scientific and mathematical courses in mind, Mark Turin, an anthropologist, is teaching a course on “Himalayan Collections at Yale” there this fall. Turin said the classroom has been “perfect” for his course because it has enabled Turin and his co-teachers, a team of librarians and instructional technology staff, to transition quickly between speakers and different types of digital media. One person can teach while another person is prepping the next presentation, he said.

Physics professor Paul Tipton, who taught “Developments in Modern Physics” in the TEAL Classroom last spring, said he found the round table setup and multiple projection screens useful. But he added that the course’s material did not lend itself to demonstrations or other hands-on activities.

“If the TEAL Classroom were a car, it would certainly be a Porsche, but in our class, we drove it like a Ford Taurus — we made little use of the most exciting features,” Tipton said in a Tuesday email.

Still, Tipton said the classroom enabled the students in the class to interact with each other more than they would have been able to elsewhere. He added that his goal for the next class he teaches in the TEAL classroom is to use more of the room’s technology, which he said would help him to “grow as an instructor.”

Laura Cheng ’14, who is taking Mochrie’s course, said she has found the TEAL approach helpful when learning physics, because she was able to conduct experiments herself along with the rest of the class.

Elizabeth Tokarz ’17, who is enrolled in Turin’s “Himalayan Collections” class this fall, said students find it easier to stay focused in the TEAL classroom because it is more immersive than a traditional lecture hall.

But Mason Ji ’16 said he does not think the classroom has been publicized well enough to professors who might be interested in exploring new ways of using technology in the classroom.

“I think a lot of professors just don’t know about it,” he said.

ITS increased the seating capacity of the TEAL Classroom from 126 to 150 students in response to feedback from a focus group comprised of faculty members who had taught in the TEAL Classroom last spring.

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