Thursday, December 22, 2011

New learning space and teaching techniques improve student results

In "Pedagogy and Space: Empirical Research on New Learning Environments" Walker, Brooks, and Baepler report that new cabaret style rooms and student centered learning are popular with students and improve their results, but take some getting used to. They found the new room design changes the instructor's behavior, even when the instructor was not trying to teach differently. This suggests that university administrations could proceed to build new style rooms and so encourage new style teaching in them. The research found that the new student centered learning also improved results, even without the new style rooms. But the university may find it easier, cheaper and quicker to change the room designs than teacher habits.

The University of Minnesota's Sciences Teaching Student Services Building is equipped with cabaret style rooms typically for 117 students each. These rooms have a flat floor with a teaching podium in the center, circular tables for groups of nine students and projections screens on the four walls.

This TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) style room was used by MIT in the mid 2000s. More recently a style of room more like a traditional classroom has become popular. This retains the student groups at desks, but places the instructor's podium and most of the screens at one end of the room. The room is wedge shaped and the desks (rectangular, oval or wedge shaped) are orientated so most students can see the main wall (with supplementary screens on other walls). This design allows for a more traditional presentation, with the students all looking in the one direction at the presenter, providing more of a group focus. Also presenters are not distracted by having some of the audience behind their back. However, that design can be an uncomfortable compromise.

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