The New Classroom
Spaces for active learning and teaching
“Learning is not a watching activity. Students must talk and write about what they are learning, link it to previous experiences and apply it to their everyday lives. They must take ownership of the learning internally.” – Chickering and Gamson
To help students achieve good learning outcomes, a critical aspect is keeping them motivated on an ongoing basis. A survey on student motivation (CCSSE) conducted by the Community College of the University of Texas at Austin found that only half also complete their second year of study. Many even drop out during their first semester. This survey is conducted annually to find out why many students give up on their studies so quickly and to address this problem in the long term. Among other things, the CCSSE measures the extent to which students are active and collaborative learners.
An article in Change magazine on collaborative learning in higher education provides a powerful illustration of the benefits of collaborative teaching and learning methods. “College students who are only in the middle of the pack with individual learning styles show significantly better results with a collaborative learning method and are then in the top 30 percent.” This study looked at aspects of knowledge acquisition, knowledge retention, accuracy, creative problem solving and reasoning skills, among others. They can be used to measure whether a learning method is useful and beneficial for students.
A study by the National Training Laboratories found that knowledge stuck with students longer when more active teaching and learning methods were used.- Adapted from The Learning Triangle: National Training Laboratories © mindServegroup 2005
What we know
The layout of a classroom affects interaction and motivation. Higher motivation and active learning improve knowledge retention.
This is where student motivation comes into play. It becomes the teacher’s most important goal, he says. So we see a clear difference here from the traditional pedagogical approach.
The classroom setup helps students develop skills for their everyday lives. Autonomous, self-directed learning and collaborative problem solving are critical aspects of this.
Roger Yohe, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at EMCC, says, “The key is not what students know, but what they do with that knowledge. Group work leads to strong social control. Misbehavior is much less likely to occur than with face-to-face instruction. With small groups, everyone pays attention to everyone else. You learn as a community. Students turn to their fellow students first when they have questions and only to the teacher when in doubt.”
The layout of the classroom can contribute formally and informally to a higher level of interaction between teacher and students.
When the instructor can move freely around the room, it allows for closer contact with students when they have a question or problem, so interaction is greatly improved. Astin explains that regular interaction with instructors leads to greater “satisfaction among students than any other type of reference.” So students who have direct contact with their instructors are significantly more satisfied with their university experience. The more intensive the exchange, the better the rating.
Pleasant learning spaces can trigger physical and mental well-being, enable greater concentration, and minimize distraction.
These days, people of all different types go to college. That means colleges need to offer flexible learning spaces that accommodate this change so that all students can learn better, regardless of their background or learning goals.
A survey of Estrella Mountain Community College employees leaves no doubt that modern learning spaces create an atmosphere more conducive to teaching and learning than traditional classrooms.
Classrooms must be designed to be conducive to academic, intellectual, and community growth. They should provide a sense of well-being and not prescribe or discourage certain behaviors in either faculty or students. Classrooms should promote motivation and active teaching and learning and support the learning objectives of higher educational institutions.
If active, collaborative teaching and learning is more effective than lectures and individual learning, the question is why classrooms have not been redesigned accordingly. Since we know that frontal teaching and competition leads to poorer outcomes and high dropout rates, the next question would be why students are still sitting on fixed long benches – “lined up like soldiers,” as one community college professor put it – instead of in small groups at tables or in circles. And why don’t classrooms support dynamic teaching and learning?
Creating motivating, active learning environments requires a collaborative vision, the development and implementation of which is best entrusted to a specialized team that can provide innovative solutions thanks to its particular skills and talents.
Out of this partnership came a working group with diverse experiences and backgrounds. They all had one thing in common: a desire to leave behind the time-honored understanding of what a classroom should look like. First, the team surveyed faculty to learn more about their teaching methods. The most common teaching style cited was “a forum for open, free dialogue between students and faculty.” Followed by “providing incentives and allowing students to make their own discoveries.”
To address this teaching style, the team developed three principles:
1. Institutions can create spaces that nurture students and enhance teaching and learning.
2. With the help of new spaces, institutions can respond to changing student and faculty needs and expectations.
3. Classrooms must not prescribe or discourage a particular style of teaching or learning.
The biggest challenge for the team was to redesign the classrooms, as they would have the most direct impact on teaching and learning methods. What was the best way to support collaborative, active learning, motivate students and faculty, provide opportunities for student-faculty interaction, and challenge and encourage students?
Interaction and motivation
Learning studios support direct relationships and communication among students, who are thus no longer as passive and isolated as in a traditional classroom.
Active participation and Self- responsibility
The dynamic, flexible learning studios also provide moments of surprise time and again. The unexpected possibilities that open up in these spaces often make them appear in a new light. This, of course, brings advantages over the traditional classroom with its long, fixed rows of desks.
EMCC faculty were particularly convinced that learning studios encourage group activities and thus student autonomy. Particularly emphasized in the follow-up studies were the ability to separate groups, the flexible room design, and the ease with which information can be presented.
Another plus was that students learn to learn independently in this way. Instructors and students alike can have control over the space.
Roger Yohe of EMCC is working with other instructors to explore how to further increase motivation and self-responsibility among students. “We need to move away from frontal teaching and emphasize how students learn. That’s active teaching. Our job is not just to teach students a theory, but more importantly to show them how to apply that theory.
When we give our students the right tools to learn, they understand that they are responsible for themselves.”
Learning studios also encourage students to support each other. Unlike traditional classrooms, they allow for relaxed group work without lowering academic standards. The students interviewed said that
they had already started learning groups themselves and were more likely to ask their fellow students for help, as sharing and participation had become an everyday part of university life.
Learning for everyday life
In a group that relies a lot on collaborative work and experimentation in small groups, each individual is important. The teacher is no longer the “leader.” This aspect of the learning studio is what one EMCC instructor called the “decentralization of the teaching space.” But it’s not just where the instructor is located that is decentralized; the instructor’s role is decentralized as well. An important principle now is “give and take.” Lecturers are supposed to teach this to their students so that they take it with them into their everyday lives.
- through more active participation in group activities,
- through the stimulating learning environment that encourages speaking contributions and participation in discussions, and
- through easy access to technology that facilitates research and dynamic learning.
Interaction through formal and informal means.
But the learning studios also provide opportunities for one-on-one conversations between faculty and students. Celeste soft seating, Covey stools and Resolve rolling desks can be used to set up appropriate areas.
Mental and physical well-being
Out of the partnership between EMCC, Herman Miller and Goodmans grew a new collaborative approach to how learning studios can be planned and designed. It demonstrates how ideas, experiences and sharing can lead to successful outcomes as part of a diverse, creative team – like the students and faculty in the learning studios.
Astin, Alexander W., „Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education“, in: Journal of College Student Development, September/ Oktober 1999, 40 (5), S. 518-529
Chickering, A. W. und E. F. Gamson, „Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education“, in: American Association of Higher Education, Bulletin 39 (7), S. 3-7, 1987
Community College Survey of Student Engagement, „2005 Findings“, Ergebnisse und Zusammenfassung der Umfrage, www.ccsse.org, abgerufen am 24.7.2006
Estrella Mountain Community College, Office of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, „Summer 2005 Student Focus Group & Survey on Classroom Design“, 19. Juli 2005
Fisher, Kenn, Tony Gilding, Peter Jamieson, Peter Taylor und Chris Trevitt, „Place and Space in the Design of New Learning Environments“, in: Higher Education Research and Development, 19 (2), Juli 2000, S. 221-237
Herman Miller, Inc., und D. Deasy, Inc., „Radical Flexibility and the Learning Studios at EMCC“, Forschungsbericht, Mai 2006
Herman Miller, Inc., interner Forschungsbericht, 2006
Herman Miller Case Study, Estrella Mountain Community College, 2006, www.HermanMiller.com
Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson und Karl A. Smith, „Cooperative Learning Returns to College: What Evidence is There That It Works?“ in:Change, Juli/August, 1998, S. 27-35
Leach, Linda und Nick Zepke, „Integration and Adaptation: Approaches to the Student Retention and Achievement Puzzle“, in: Higher Education Academy and SAGE Publications, 6 (1), 2005, S. 46-59
Maricopa Learning Exchange, „Learning Studios: Radical Flexibility for the Next Generation of Learning Spaces“, www.mcli.dist.maricopy.edu/mlx/ slip.php?item=1797, abgerufen am 27.6.2006
National Training Laboratories Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences, „The Learning Triangle: Retention Rates from Different Ways of Learning“, Bethel, Maine, 2005
O’Banion, Terry, „The Learning College: Both Learner and Learning Centered“, in: Learning Abstracts, 2 (2), March 1999, abgerufen am 22.6.2006 auf www.league.org/publication/abstracts/learning/lelabs9903.html
Oblinger, Diana G., „Radical Flexibility and Student Success: An Interview with Homero Lopez“, in: Educause Review, Januar/Februar 2006
Wolff, Susan J., „Design Features for Project-Based Learning, February 2002, www.designshare.com/ResearchWolff/Wolff_DesignShare_3_7_02.pdf, abgerufen am 27.7.2006
Yohe, Roger, Telefoninterview, 31. Juli 2006