What is SCALE-UP?
SCALE-UP—Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies—is an active mode of learning which offers an alternative to traditional lectures. In a SCALE-UP class, rather than predominately listening to their lecturers, students learn through solving problems, sharing ideas, giving and receiving feedback, and teaching each other.
History of SCALE-UP
SCALE-UP was originally developed by Robert Beichner, Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University (NCSU). In the mid-2000s, Beichner and his colleagues began experimenting with a hands-on approach to learning that dissolved barriers between theory and practice. Their aim was to develop a model of teaching that could improve students’ conceptual understanding more effectively than a ‘traditional’ model of separate lectures and seminars/labs.
In SCALE-UP, lectures are replaced by problem-solving and enquiry-based activities carried out in strategically-assigned groups. To foster collaborative learning, the re-designed classroom environment incorporates bespoke circular tables, shared laptops, and mirroring technology for students to share their work with the class. Flipcharts and whiteboards function as additional Public Thinking Spaces (Beichner 2014).
These physical aspects are supported by: ‘upside-down pedagogy’ comprising ‘backwards design’—the curriculum is designed ‘backwards’ from the learning outcomes; ‘students as teachers’; and flipped learning, where ‘content’ may be encountered outside class and sessions are devoted to applying ideas. The shift away from lectures frees up class time for students to focus on difficult aspects of the material, to work at their own pace, and to receive on-the spot feedback on their work from peers and the tutor.
As with many active learning approaches, SCALE-UP offers regular opportunities for tutors to monitor learning and understanding, observe progress, and identify and address difficulties as they arise.
Early evidenced benefits of SCALE-UP
Generating a range of data on many cohorts at NCSU (N=16,000), Beichner was able to document improvements in both student engagement and achievement.
In particular, Beichner et al (2007) reported the following benefits:
- conceptual understanding increased;
- ability to solve problems improved;
- attitudes and attendance improved;
- failure rates were significantly reduced; and,
- “at-risk” students did better in later modules.