Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Think Outside the Box: Redesigning Classrooms For Students

Active learning environments are key to student success. So jump out of that old box!

Think about your recent experience in the classroom. Did the seating arrangement remind you of a box? Most classrooms are set up in the square, rowed seating arrangement. How do we move past this? How do we set up classrooms FOR students, not for teachers. Think about it, classrooms are set up for teachers, 'all eyes on me' type of focus. I'm not insinuating teachers even want it this way, it's just the way buildings are built and rooms are designed. Is that the best way for students to learn? We know through experience and research that students do learn best when they are actively involved:  able to probe, process, discuss, discover, investigate, and inquire through hands-on activities and discussions. Can students critically think, collaboratively learn,and openly share if they feel boxed in? 

What is the resolution? We can move towards classroom designs which offer students and educators options for teaching and learning together.  Rockhurst University is taking the lead on this initiative. Starting this Spring, faculty and students will get to enjoy more collaborative and innovative spaces in Sedgwick Hall. 

Part of a pilot plan to practice and develop innovative learning environments for active engagement, three classrooms have been redesigned with movable furniture, new technology tools and a fresh color scheme.  Sedgwick 229 shows some of the more dynamic changes with cafĂ©-style group seating, high top tables, rectangular tables and "huddle boards” which are whiteboards mounted or taken down for groups to write thoughts and discuss then placed back on the wall.  All the furniture can be moved and easily rearranged from one class period to the next. Sedgwick 224 offers another interesting approach with access for all students to link their mobile devices to a monitor at the end of each of the six group tables. This will diminish interruptions and enable students in sharing their work with their peers and instructor. Take a look:

These changes come with continuous support for faculty. An initial training was given last week and I will be working with CETL to provide ongoing training for instructors who would like to discuss, learn, and plan out how to use these new spaces to deliver the variety of content, to a variety of learning styles in a variety teaching methods.Encouraging them to use their own toolBOX and open it up to provide more enriching opportunities for their students and themselves.It's a new year with new beginnings and freedom. Here's to opening ourselves to being risk takers and getting rid of those boxes which are keeping us closed in.

Other initiatives RU has opened to faculty and students;

RU Article about new classrooms: http://www.rockhurst.edu/news/article/rooms-offer-sneak-peak-academic-innovations/ Zoom: http://www.rockhurst.edu/news/article/zoom-platform-opens-new-education-avenues-rockhurst/

Flipping the Classroom: http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/

Collaborative Spaces: http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/02/13/designing-collaborative-spaces-for-schools.aspx?=THE21


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  2. Ah, this is exactly what I've been researching lately as I try to design the edtech office at Rockhurst HS. Form follows function, and I like the flexibility that could happen in the Sedgwick rooms. Who helped you design these rooms? I've been very impressed with Steelcase.

  3. Thanks for your comment Brandon. I'll email you today with some more information. Herman Miller helped RU design the rooms with Steelcase. We also have a university technology committee comprised of faculty, staff and students. This semester a mix of faculty and students are piloting the rooms through their courses and projects infusing technology and pedagogical practices. Very exciting! All this insight and experience will be shared as the new academic building is being built. Happy to help anyway I can...