There is an overall assumption that “classrooms of the future” with non-traditional layouts and the latest technology will have a positive impact for both students and instructors. Previous research has shown that “studio classrooms,” in which students sit facing each other in small groups rather than in front-facing rows, support active learning. However, fully realizing the benefits of these spaces requires a time- and effort-intensive change in the way a course is taught. We hypothesize that flexible classroom spaces, which have movable tables and chairs that can be easily rearranged into different layouts, are one potential solution to this problem. The open-ended design of flexible classrooms means they can be arranged into front-facing rows or small groups depending on the instructor’s needs during a given activity.
Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education, we are conducting a study that will follow five instructors as they teach the same course during two consecutive academic years, first in a traditional lecture hall and then, after participating in a faculty learning community focused on the affordances of the room, in a flexible classroom. We will investigate how the instructors’ pedagogy, use of formative assessment, and interaction with students differs between the two classrooms. We will also investigate how the physical classroom space influences the ways students interpret and engage in group learning activities.
Our NSF project has been preceded by a high-level investigation of the different ways in which the instructors of seven different courses did and did not take advantage of the affordances of a flexible classroom. We also conducted a detailed investigation of how the instructor and students in one of these courses—a sophomore-level Introduction to Electronic Circuits course—used the flexible classroom during active learning. All instructors used the classroom in small group layouts, which afforded more interaction between students and between students and the instructor. This increased interaction was prominent in the Circuits course, as the instructor was able to sit down with students during active learning and discuss their problem-solving process. This close interaction then allowed the instructor to rapidly respond to misconceptions of gaps in students’ knowledge.
Currently, in this first year of this NSF project, we are developing research instruments based on our pilot project. We are creating a classroom observation protocol that can be used to categorize the type of formative assessment used in undergraduate engineering courses. This protocol will be constructed from the formative assessment literature and from coded analysis of 50 hours of video from 7 courses being taught in flexible classrooms. We are also designing a survey to measure students’ perception of their instructor, the flexible classroom, and their role in learning activities. Future work involves administering these instruments in five courses to study how flexible classrooms affect instructor pedagogy and student behavior. This poster will present (1) findings from the pilot study, (2) key features of the classroom observation protocol and the survey instrument, and (3) future plans for the implementation of the instruments in this NSF project.
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