Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Do you want more in a classroom?

Westminster is in the middle of a campus master planning process. A design team has been asking administrators and faculty what they think they will need in our classrooms over the next 10-20 years.

I find this question nearly impossible to answer. I've taught in all sorts of classrooms. Some seat 900 movie theatre style. Others hold 10 chairs arrayed around a conference table. The room I'm teaching in this semester is cutting-edge. It includes a computer, projector, cameras, a monitor, movable tables and chairs. Our campus also includes classrooms with chalkboards, transparency projectors, and lecterns. (Those same rooms also include a computer and projector.)

These last rooms are the ones that have gotten me thinking. They are museums, if you will, of trends in educational technology. (They are also the source of a lot of good natured eye-rolling. A lectern? Come on!) But I'm not sure they've made learning better or worse.

This is of course contrary to nearly everyone's belief in the power of the classroom to shape learning. It is part of our pitch to donors (please give so we can have cutting edge classrooms). It is the source of a lot of spending (got to get those classrooms up to date). And "bad" classrooms are the source of lots of complaints.

So I'm asking--can you tell a story where a particular classroom made a difference, for good or ill--in student learning? Can you think of an instance when the classroom was so good or so bad that it had a lasting impact on the class? Or is concern about what goes in a classroom really evidence that the instruction paradigm continues to reign? If a campus was all about learning, how would we think about classrooms?


Peter said...

One of things we learned about from k-12 is that the classroom setup does make some difference (how much is obviously up for grabs). But this has largely to do with how a teacher organizes the room. One of the things that we did in the SOE was to have dedicated rooms specifically for education classes.
These classrooms have places to store materials, post things on the wall, and a sense of ownership for what is in there.
Perhaps we are missing the boat a little when we wonder about the technology in the classroom and not about permanence. Where can I put up posters, art, excellent work, student projects, etc??? These are all good ways to help students know they are excelling and to provide a more 'inviting' classroom.
I know.... that is for elementary school. I don't think so.

Bryce said...


I don't have a story yet, but I am in a design course this semester where I think the classroom will make a difference. But, I think it has less to do with what is in the classroom (technology, etc.) and more with Peter's idea of permanence.

The course is intended to be a studio where we create, share, and critique instructional materials that we each produce. The instructor found a room in the basement of the McKay Bldg at BYU that isn't being used by any other group or course this semester. That means that we can post things on the walls, store materials, and have our own permanent space. My sense so far (I've only been to class once) is that being able to leave and post things without worrying about them being taken down will make a difference in our learning.

For example, we'll be creating a wall of shame/fame illustrating good and bad designs (our own and others that we have collected). On the wall will be instructional artifacts as well as our comments relating to why they are good or bad. My hope is that it will create an ongoing conversation of sorts across the semester about design. My guess is that if someone were to come in at the end of the semester they might also see a decent record of our group learning.

So, the jury is still out, but I think that this particular classroom and the way it is used will make a difference.

To answer your last question (what would classrooms be like if our campuses were about learning), I think that one difference we would see is that individual instructors would work much more closely with campus schedulers to find rooms that facilitate the type of learning they want to go on. In most cases I think those classroom assignments have more to do with capacity than anything. Additionally, on a true learning campus those that design physical space would spend a lot more time talking with the important stakeholders (faculty & students). I would be surprised if that happens very often at most institutions.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I wonder. Do cozy rooms where people feel comfortable facilitate learning? Perhaps hard metal chairs make students sit up straighter and stay alert for the duration of the class? Perhaps the lack of an internet connection at every seat would keep them from checking their Facebook accounts and eBay auctions, instead of taking notes? I don't know, I think classroom modernization is another thing that can be taken too far, and is directed, ultimately, at some external audience. But since you ask, the best classrooms I have seen are ones where all the students can see both the teacher and one another.