Flexible classroom spaces, which have movable tables and chairs that can be easily rearranged into different layouts, make it easier for instructors to effectively implement active learning than a traditional lecture hall. Instructors can move throughout the room to interact with students during active learning, and they can rearrange the tables into small groups to facilitate conversation between students. Classroom technology, such as wall-mounted monitors and movable whiteboards, also facilitates active learning by allowing students to collaborate. In addition to enabling active learning, the flexible classroom can still be arranged in front-facing rows that support traditional lecture-based pedagogies. As a result, instructors do not have to make time- and effort-intensive changes to the way their courses are taught in order to use the flexible classroom. Instead, they can make small changes to add active learning.
We are in the second year of a study of flexible classroom spaces funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education. This project asks four research questions that investigate the relationships between the instructor, the students, and the classroom: 1) What pedagogy do instructors use in a flexible classroom space? 2) How do instructors take advantage of the instructional affordances (including the movable furniture, movable whiteboards, wall-mounted whiteboards, and wall-mounted monitors) of a flexible classroom? 3) What is the impact of faculty professional development on instructors’ use of flexible classroom spaces? and 4) How does the classroom influence the ways students interpret and engage in group learning activities? In the first year of our study we have developed five research instruments to answer these questions: a three-part classroom observation protocol, an instructor interview protocol, two instructor surveys, and a student survey.
We have collected data from nine courses taught in one of ten flexible classrooms at the University of Michigan during the Fall 2018 semester. Two of these courses were first-year introduction to engineering courses co-taught by two instructors, and the other seven courses were sophomore- and junior-level core technical courses taught by one instructor. Five instructors participated in a faculty learning community that met three times during the semester to discuss active learning, to learn how to make the best use of the flexible classroom affordances, and to plan activities to implement in their courses. In each course we gathered data from the perspective of the instructor (through pre- and post-semester interviews), the researcher (through observations of three class meetings with our observation protocol), and the students (through conducting a student survey at the end of the semester). This poster presents qualitative and qualitative analyses of these data to answer our research questions, along with evidence-based best practices for effectively using a flexible classroom.
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