"Rethinking the classroom in the knowledge economy", by Lennie Scott-Webber (Steelcase)

by Lennie Scott-Webber, Ph.D., Director, Education Environments Steelcase Education Globally
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La salle de classe de demain selon Steelcase
La salle de classe de demain selon Steelcase
Before the conference on November 20, entitled "How to adapt the campus for teaching?", Lennie Scott-Webber from Steelcase explains to EducPros why classrooms are intentionally designed to support active learning leading to an improvment of the overall student performance.

Lennie Scott-Weber, Ph.D., Director, Education Environments Steelcase Education GloballyFor those of us of a certain age, we remember our classroom days as being neat, uniform rows of look-alike desks with the teacher at the front of a room of pupils in a state of varying degrees of attentiveness.  This basic design layout changed little over centuries for formal classrooms and was designed for the industrial economy[1].

In our knowledge economy of limited attention spans and multiple distractions, the scholarly setting of the ‘factory model’ is no longer effective, if indeed it ever was. Teachers are often seeking new ways to inspire and create passionate learners resulting in successful students who go on to be productive citizens. The student of the 21st century is different than that of a generation ago.  Today’s job market is highly competitive and requires complex new skills and analytical capabilities beyond just knowing how to download apps on one’s smartphone and interact on Facebook and Twitter with friends. Aside from being prepared for the jobs of the 21st century, students also need preparation for the workplace and this preparation has to change.  Today’s employee may work from home, in a remote field location or in a shared office space and be expected to collaborate with colleagues and in trans-disciplinary work teams all over the country or even the globe.  These Global industries are pushing higher educational institutions to give them “T-shaped students”[2]; students who are steeped in discipline knowledge, vertical component of the T, and ‘soft skills’ such as collaboration, negotiation, inquiry-based, etc. for the top of the T.

All of these factors cause educational institutions to rethink their learning environments.  The shift away from the traditional classroom set up to designed environments allowing freedom of movement and encouraging team collaboration is more conducive to deep learning; showing demonstrable improvement in student performance[3].

The shift away from the traditional classroom set up to designed environments allowing freedom of movement and encouraging team collaboration is more conducive to deep learning.

A meta-analysis was conducted to determine if active learning was more, or less effective as compared to lecture for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).[4] “To test the efficacy of constructivist versus exposition-centered course designs, we focused on the design of class sessions…documented student performance…We focused on two related questions. Does active learning boost examination scores? Does it lower failure rates? (p.1) The data indicate that active learning increases student performance (statistically significantly) across the STEM disciplines…and has a greater impact on student mastery of higher- versus lower-level cognitive skills.” (p.2)

While there is ample existing research about student engagement and learning outcomes, new research on the effect of [5] intentionally designed formal education space and how this impacts student engagement, and teacher pedagogical changes is recent. In a study developed by Steelcase Education3 researchers had three goals:  (1) Develop a reliable and valid research instrument studying student engagement in an active learning setting, (2) Test if the evidence-based, intentionally designed Steelcase Education’s active learning settings proved to improve student engagement as perceived by both students and their respective faculty members, and (3) If 1 and 2, then begin to build an aggregated data base to share results with the public.

That classrooms intentionally designed to support active learning are more effective, increase the likelihood of student engagement and improve overall student performance.

Three institutions of higher education based in the U.S. were the testing ground for three active learning settings (node, LearnLab and media:scape).   One-hundred and thirty students and 17 faculty members in a variety of courses participated in the study. The research instrument was structured into four sections:  (1) demographics and baseline information (2) learning practices, (3) solutions, and (4) perception of outcomes.  Class size varied among faculty and no professional development was provided beforehand from Steelcase. 

Why was it necessary to conduct a study to prove that environment impacts learning when anecdotal evidence can be found in droves?  We know we all feel better when we walk into a room that has just been newly decorated and refurbished and classrooms are no different.  But the Steelcase Education study provides the solid evidence needed to justify investment in learning infrastructure:  that classrooms intentionally designed to support active learning are more effective, increase the likelihood of student engagement and improve overall student performance.   

Learning happens anywhere and can be synchronous or asynchronous, formal or informal. The change from passive to active learning and the tensions created in this process affect teaching and learning strategies, technologies and space. By looking at how individuals learn and by considering information about the learner and learning places, designers can effectively address the spatial needs of today’s students and educators.



[1] Scott-Webber, L. (2004). In_sync: Environment behavior and the design of learning spaces. MI: The Society of College and University Planning.

[2] T-shaped student. Retrieved March 12, 2014 from http://acara.environment.umn.edu/2012/04/30/the-changing-face-of-education-t-shaped-students/

[3] Freeman, et al (2013). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Retrieved March 2014 from http://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410.full

[4] Freeman, et al (2013). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Retrieved March 2014 from http://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410.full

[5] Scott-Webber, et al (2013). Environments impact behaviors. Results of an active learning post-occupancy evaluation. Planning for higher education. MI: SCUP.

Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber (IIDA, NCIDQ)

She is the Director of Education Environments for Steelcase Education globally. She leads the discovery (research), design, and dissemination efforts for this team focused on education issues at all levels forming a global perspective. Previously she was a professor and chair of two design schools (one in Canada and one in the USA), design educator, and practicing professional specializing in education design.
She is an author, frequent invited speaker at national and international forums, journal editor, and has over 50 publications to her credit. She holds a PhD, Masters in Interior Design, and a Minor in Gerontology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Florida.

Jeudi 20 novembre 2014 : Conférence EducPros "Comment adapter son campus à sa pédagogie"  (Programme à venir)

by Lennie Scott-Webber, Ph.D., Director, Education Environments Steelcase Education Globally | Publié le

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