What is it?
SCALE-UP stands for ‘Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies. Essentially, this is a flipped classroom technique where students are encouraged to engage in preparatory work (either pre-session reading or online tasks such as podcasts or mini-lecture screencasts), before coming to class to engage in enquiry-based learning and/or problem-solving, typically in a technology-enabled active learning (TEAL) space.
Courses taught through SCALE-UP are constructively aligned, with students working towards summative assessments (often group outputs such as reports or poster presentations) that target specific intended learning outcomes, through formative learning activities that are also designed to facilitate development of key skills such as teamwork and communication.
How does it work?
In a SCALE-UP classroom, students are arranged in several groups around a circular table that seats nine, accommodating three groups of three students. Each subgroup has access to a laptop and a whiteboard, and each student in each subgroup is assigned a specific group role – manager, scribe and sceptic (with a fourth optional role of summariser if there is an extra student); these roles periodically alternating. The group composition is decided by the tutor, based on mixed abilities or other demographics; and may change throughout the semester.
A SCALE-UP class is typically scheduled for 2-3 hours. However, it is not necessary for students to be engaged in application tasks the whole time. Problem-solving activities may be interspersed with short plenaries for clarification, or electronic voting to check understanding, or there may be time for individual reflection or group discussion (between groups or across the class).
What do I need?
The originators of this work – Beichner et al. (2007) – advocate the use of round tables that seats nine students, with each subset of three having access to a portable whiteboard and laptop. The group should be able to share their thinking with other groups, via whiteboards and/or their screen which in a TEAL room can be projected to a larger shared classroom screen. In larger rooms, this means that microphones are also required for students for accessibility.
McNeil et al. (2017) also advise preparing students for working in groups in terms of outlining the purposes of different group roles, and providing a clear outline of learning activities to students, with specific instructions. They also advocate introducing SCALE-UP across different courses to ‘normalise’ this active learning strategy.
Co-teaching will be required for larger groups; for more than four tables, McNeil et al. (2017) cite Beichner et al. (2007) in advocating another tutor.
Support is available from Academic and Digital Development (in LEADS) to help you redesign your course for SCALE-UP.
Does it work?
Evidence from pilot study research at Nottingham Trent University shows that SCALE-UP improves student participation and performance, closing the gap between traditional higher education students and underrepresented groups (McNeil et al. 2017). Subsequent research presented by Jane McNeil (report in preparation) at the Active Collaborative Learning conference at NTU in 2019 revealed that all students demonstrated an increase in course grades, with BME students’ increase being significant, but that while some students were very satisfied, student satisfaction decreased overall. Ninety one percent of staff were satisfied with SCALE-UP and 76% considered that it promoted deep learning; it was also considered to be more inclusive and participatory.
A study by Felege and Ralph (2019) of two biology courses that adopted SCALE-UP demonstrated mixed results; both courses showed a higher proportion of high grades and a decrease in fails; however, lower quartile students performed worse in both courses, which the authors attribute to those students being less ready for the independent learning required by a flipped learning approach. At the same time, student satisfaction survey items on organisation, materials and feedback decreased while their evaluation of their own workload increased.
What these studies seem to show is that students do not always recognise the benefit of active learning techniques, and although most students benefit from this approach, careful attention is needed to ensure that lower performing students are appropriately supported to learn independently.
The NTU guide by McNeil et al (2017) provides a comprehensive overview of SCALE-UP and how it works pedagogically, as well as practical logistics and tips for ensuring effective groupwork. This is part of a larger suite of resources for SCALE-UP at NTU, that also point to Beichner and colleagues’ video about SCALE-UP.
Beichner, R. J., Saul, J. M., Abbott, D. S., Morse, J. J., Deardorff, D., Allain, R. J., . . . Risley, J. S. (2007). The student-centered activities for large enrollment undergraduate programs (SCALE-UP) project. Research-based reform of university physics, 1(1), 2-39.
Felege, C. J., & Ralph, S. G. (2019). Evaluating the efficacy of a student-centered active learning environment for undergraduate programs (SCALE-UP) classroom for major and non-major biology students. Journal of Biological Education (Routledge), 53(1), 98-109. doi:10.1080/00219266.2018.1447001
McNeil, J., Borg, M., Kennedy, E., Cui, V., Puntha, H., & Rashid, Z. (2017). SCALE-UP Handbook. Nottingham Trent University. Retrieved from https://www4.ntu.ac.uk/adq/document_uploads/teaching/181133.pdf