Study: New classrooms improved student engagement

Experts say classrooms need an overhaul

Educators can—and should—do more to incorporate design thinking into the classroom as a way to foster active learning, argues one expert for the Hechinger Report.

Lennie Scott-Webber, the director of education environments at Steelcase Education, an education design and services firm, says the current architectural paradigm of the classroom is broken. "Hierarchy is built into the design," she writes. Most classrooms have about one-third of their space allocated for instruction, she points out, while students sit passively staring at the head of the person in front of them.

"Many would argue that this is a classic teacher-centered educating place, not a real learning place," she concludes.

Design as a differentiator

Students need to be kinetically engaged during the learning process, Scott-Webber argues. She points to research that shows movement provides the brain with the oxygen it needs to absorb and process information.

Researchers from Steelcase recently published a study in the Planning for Higher Education Journal highlighting the positive effect more progressive learning spaces can have on the student experience.

For the study, researchers surveyed 130 students at three institutions on their classroom experience both before and after the installation of nontraditional progressive learning spaces.

Related: Higher ed's next disruption will come in three dimensions

After the changes, 81.9% of students reported higher rates of collaboration, 59.6% felt more focused, and 59.3% were more comfortable participating. The new spaces were also paired with student-centric active learning strategies.

Scott-Webber argues that incorporating evidence-based design and progressive teaching strategies is essential to promote engagement and learning. "Don’t settle! Place can make a powerful difference," she says (Scott-Webber, Hechinger Report, 11/20;).

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