Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Space Defines Destiny: assessment of a learning studio

This presentation at the Western Regional Educause conference was particularly interesting to me because of the struggles we have gone through to get Second Life working in a lab and classroom environment, and because of conversations we have had in our department about learning spaces.

* Jim S. C. Tom, Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology, University of Missouri-St Louis

"This session will present the planning, use, and assessment of our first flexible technology-enhanced classroom or learning "studio"—an immediately useful yet also provocative and experimental space. We will show how the completed space itself challenged our faculty and students to redefine what learning at UMSL could mean."

They wanted to create a learning space that would challenge the typical teaching space model that includes fixed seating, "sage on the stage" teaching, and a culture of discomfort that does not invite engagement or participation.

They created a discussion group on innovative classroom design called the "Provost's Forum" that included staff, faculty, students, facilities and planning. The result was a working paper on classroom design. They decided that a learning space should be flexible, comfortable, social, and accessible. They created a team to design the space that included their IT department, faculty, a systems integrator (I want that job), and interior designer (what a relief! don't the IT dept. choose the colors!), and facilities. This is really a radical idea: get teachers to help design learning spaces with those who have to build and use this space.

They built a prototype classroom that would have assessment of the project built into its use. This is different from a culture that builds spaces but does not follow up on how they are used.

Assessment included:
1. Faculty observations
2. Blogs
3. Video recordings
4. Surveys of all users
5. Debriefing meeting with faculty

The room included two projectors facing opposite walls, a plasma screen, white boards, an area with couches, circular tables that were made of moveable quarters on wheels, a cart of laptops, sympodium, and a document camera. Their budget for the one room came in at $222,000!

They found that the rooms promoted engagement. The comfortable space was less threatening to students who said that it felt like a privilege to use the room and that it made them want to learn and participate. Faculty said that "the space is the message." Space not only determines how the students feel about learning but it also communicates how the institution feels about teaching and the students as people.

Spaces reflect the values of the institution.

The classroom had no obvious front or back. It encouraged the faculty to circulate among the students.

They learned that training teachers how to use the space was important.

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