Documentation:World Cafe/UBC's Learning Environment

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Context for Conversation


Questions Asked

  1. Describe a really good learning experience you've had recently. What made it good? Why?
  2. What are the necessary ingredients to support great learning experiences?


Themes were generated by 13 participants during brainstorming and refined during grouping and the generation of themes related to the ideas discussed. We further refined and summarized in 3 ways:


Wordles (word clouds) are graphical representations of words, with greater prominence to words that appear more frequently. Learnerswordle.jpg

Mind Map

Mind maps arrange words and ideas intuitively to better understand the information and its interrelationships. This is the same content as represented in the text table below (next section). Expandable map view.

Learning environment.png

Text Table

Note: Numbers in parentheses indicate a similar/same idea that was repeated more than once.

Themes Focus: Ideas & Examples
Collaboration and Support / Engagement / Relationships

Community and Scale

  • Small classes and groups: collaborating and building interpersonal relationships (9)
  • Blurring the hierarchy to promote dialogue: learning ↔ teaching (students and professors learn and teach with one another) (5)
  • High instructor-to-student ratio (3)

Student-Professor Relationship

  • One-on-one conversations with professors (2)
  • Good learning is facilitated
  • 100- and 200- level courses, instructor instead of professor (concerned about research) should be lecturing
    because content is roughly standardized

Support Structures

  • Availability of communication methods (other students and professors) both in and outside classroom (3)
  • Presence and access to supportive role models and mentors
Knowledge Exchange / Communication / Teaching

Interdisciplinary and Holistic Content

  • Insightful questions that make you branch off and explore different disciplines (5)
  • Focus on knowledge, not on grades
  • Relevant and/or interesting content


  • Mixed modes of information dissemination: hosting discussions, etc (4)
  • Hands-on learning with meaningful, physical and “in the field” projects (4)
  • Passionate professors: bring able to engage a group with different knowledge and background (3)
  • Student-directed decision making
  • Notes provided before class
  • Variety of assessment techniques and opportunities
  • Incorporate student feedback on topics
  • In-sync: content must be similar and related across in-class lecture content, textbook and assignment

Learning Resources and Technology

  • Digital/Online Learning: Distance Education, WebCT Vista, iTunes U, etc (3)
  • Contextual use of technology: using iClickers to gauge understanding and identify knowledge gaps
  • Knowledge of resources available to students
Space and Place / Environment

Physical Environment

  • Temperature (2)
  • Ambience (2)
  • Acoustics
  • Comfort
  • Time of day (i.e. class schedule)

Context Sensitive

  • Space for dialogue: connections through discussions (3)
  • Atmosphere: safe, supportive and constructive (3)
  • Different spaces for different subject materials and learning needs (2)

Role of Technology

Notable topics of conversation during the Learners session revolved around the iClicker and electronic textbooks.


  • Are an effective way of facilitating discussion and promote a sense of team and constructive atmosphere.
  • Implementation in the classroom should be organic and integrated well with the lecture.
  • During multiple-choice questions, include “I’m Unsure/I Don’t Understand” option so lecturers can identify knowledge gaps and address them. Useful for students who don’t want to speak up in class (especially in a large lecture hall).

Electronic Textbooks:

  • Versatile and easy to access from multiple locations (e.g. commuting on the bus)
  • Issues around computer piracy (sharing e-books illegally with other users) and high cost compared to physical textbooks
  • However, physical textbooks were preferred when studying or reading for a long period of time


The following seem to have emerged as the sticking points in the conversation so far. An ideal learning environment involves:

  • Small-scale: based on relationships.
  • Real dialogue and content contribution between and among learners and faculty (non-hierarchical).
  • Many ways to engage with content.
  • Engagement in real-world issues, projects and questions.

An ideal teaching environment:

  • Functions as a community of practice (respect, encouragement, acknowledgment, sharing).
  • Supports flexible and responsive teaching.
  • Motivates and engages students.
  • Is effectively supported by the institution (physical space, technical support, personal support).

Questions for Further Reflection

  • Learning to what end? Related: Why are we here [in university]? Why should we be doing this [getting a degree]?
  • What does successful learning look like? (is it just about getting the degree?)
  • How much of this [feedback] is considered during revamping of curriculum?


Do you have some ideas about what makes an ideal learning environment? Please share with us! Login to your UBC Wiki account using your CWL and add in your thoughts on the Discussion page (look for the tab at the top of this page).

See Also