Image of students and professor discussing assignments.
Exploring inquiry-guided problems in a TILE classroom. Photo by Bill Adams/ The University of Iowa.

In recent years, student-centered, inquiry-guided learning has captured the imaginations of university students, instructors, and administrators in lecture halls, classrooms, and administrative offices. Across the country, courses have been reworked and classrooms redesigned for active learning.

Since the completion of the first TILE classroom in the UI Main Library in the fall of 2010, The University of Iowa, including the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology (OTLT), has become a national leader in the creation and support of active learning teaching practices and facilities.

Funded by the Office of the Provost, a Student Success Grant helped faculty members launch independent and innovative student-centered teaching projects, including two multi-disciplinary, team-taught Big Ideas courses.

Utilizing a large TILE classroom, the year-long General Education course Origins of the Universe brought together faculty members from Physics and Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Anthropology to engage students seeking to explore questions such as “When did life begin on earth” and “How can the scientific method help us distinguish science from pseudoscience?”

During the fall 2014 semester, faculty members from Anthropology, Urban and Regional Planning, Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, and Mechanical Engineering teamed up to teach People and the Environment, another Big Ideas course based in inquiry-guided practice and taught in a TILE classroom. Students compared communities in Iowa to a town in India and explored questions such as “How is my life connected to social change at a global scale?” and “What is the difference between data and knowledge?”

During the last year, the Office of the Provost funded the Large Lecture Transformation Project, which has supported faculty members and OTLT staff who collaborated to rebuild three large-lecture courses:  Introduction to Environmental Science, Media History and Culture, and Electrical Circuits. Using TILE classrooms in some cases, leveraging innovative technology in others, and employing student-centered learning principles in all, the newly designed courses brought more personalized learning to students in large classes with as many as 200 students.

During the last five years, the Office of the Provost, collegiate administrators, Office of the Registrar, and the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology have provided strong support for the development and assessment of both active learning spaces and student-centered courses. Students, instructors, and administrators are enthusiastic supporters of the new rooms and courses, with the result that the UI now is pressing against the limits of physical space and existing curriculum. The TILE classrooms are almost fully booked, with classes being held earlier in the day and later into the evening to accommodate demand.

While the national discussion about engaged student learning continues, student-centered, active learning development also is moving ahead at Iowa.

A second iteration of the Large Lecture Transformation Project for Electrical Circuits is being taught in an 81-seat TILE classroom in spring 2015, two classrooms renovated specifically for active learning practice will open in Van Allen Hall in the fall, and flexible, active learning spaces are being proposed in the new College of Engineering building.

The shift to student-centered, inquiry-guided teaching and learning has only begun. With the continued support and engagement of the UI teaching community, current and future UI students can look forward to being at the center of their own learning.

TILE Facts: 

  • 11,290+ students
  • 579 courses
  • 159 departments and organizational units
  • 11 colleges