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Instructor investigates impact of learning spaces on teaching a second language

May 31 application deadline to teach in the Taylor Institute in fall 2017 and winter 2018
May 15, 2017
Asmaa Shehata, an instructor from the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures, is evaluating how learning spaces influence student engagement and second language learning in her ALMC 202: Beginners Arabic course. Photo by Jessica Snow, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Asmaa Shehata, an instructor from the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures, is evaluating how learning spaces influence student engagement and second language learning in her ALMC 202: Beginners Arabic course. Photo by Jessica Snow, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning 

University of Calgary instructors are invited to submit applications to teach in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning in fall 2017 and winter 2018. Since the opening of the TI building last year, over 40 university courses have been taught in five flexible learning studios and the forum.

Asmaa Shehata is an instructor from the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures at the Faculty of Arts. In fall 2016 and winter 2017, she has taught two sections of ALMC 202: Beginners Arabic I — one section in the Taylor Institute, and the other in her traditional classroom setting. Here, she discusses some of her preliminary impressions on what it means to teach in the TI:  

Q: What motivated you to teach this course in the Taylor institute? 

A: I am exploring the influence of the learning environment on student learning and engagement. I am teaching the same course in two different settings. One of them is a traditional classroom, and the other is in the TI — a high-tech environment with a flexible layout. This is very interesting research in the field of second languages. Does the learning space make a difference? Does it influence student engagement? My course design and implementation, in both environments, is the same. The only thing I am not controlling is the space and I want to see if it influences performance.

Q: Do you notice any differences so far in student engagement and performance?

A: Yes. I am seeing the grades. I ask the students in both classes to do oral projects, and their performance is different. When we have group work in class at the TI, they can move their chairs, use the technology available and easily communicate. However, in the other class, they are not as keen on it. It's like a disturbance for everyone to do group work with 30 students crammed into a small room.

I feel that the layout is helping the students to communicate in groups, to speak and practice the language. If you ask students in the traditional setting to work as a group, it's difficult to be seated and divided, because it's not meant for this purpose. Not everyone is active. They try to do the task, but they don't easily manage to do it. I see that the quality of contributions from the two classes is different. The students in the TI are more active and engaged.

Q: In TI learning studios, there are collaboration carts (touch-enabled screens). How do you use them? What kind of content do you present on them? 

A: I am using the same Powerpoint and audio files in both classes. However, the way students in the two classrooms are reacting to the materials is different. I let the students in the traditional classroom use charts. I have them present a short story in groups and ask the others to edit it. In the TI, they use the touch-enabled screens and pens. It is a more interactive type of learning and it's very easy.

Q: What does active learning mean to you? In the context of teaching languages?

A: Active learning means to be motivated to come to the class and contribute in discussions, and to positively influence student learning. For example, the students at the TI had the idea to create a game to learn the language, and I did not tell them to do it. I just explained the language assignment and they created games on how to teach numbers, and adjectives for Beginner’s Arabic. I see the difference in the progress of each class. The space has had an impact.

Q: By the end of your research project, will you be able to conclude if all these differences in engagement and performance can be attributed to the space?

A: We will see, I will soon have more concrete results. I do believe that learning a second language should be fun. An active approach is the more effective way to teach languages.

The deadline to apply to teach in the Taylor Institute in fall 2017 and winter 2018 is May 31, 2017.

The Taylor Institute will host Teach in the TI Application Information Sessions on May 15 and May 17. Registration is required.