I have a good friend who is a college professor. She wanted to take advantage of her students’ love of ubiquitous technology and change how they received information. She had been teaching the same class for several years and thought that she was not engaging with students like she hoped she could.
The verdict is in: today’s students prefer group-based activities over the traditional lecture format. Photo copyright Truckee Meadows Community College through Creative Commons.
After much trepidation and preparation, she started an experiment with one of her private college classes: she “flipped” the curriculum. Students were provided videos of lectures, research, and reading assignments to complete prior to getting to class. When they arrived, they found that the standard lecture format was out. Instead, they were immersed in group-based activities, discussion groups, and problem solving. Some were even asked to lead discussions amongst their peers. The in-class activities were an opportunity to apply what was absorbed through their out-of-classroom assignments.
The excitement of trying something new carried student morale at a high level for the first semester. All were engaged in the active learning process and performance on finals proved the professor’s suspicion that this model was indeed working well.
However, upon return from winter break, the professor surveyed the class. Students noted that they were a bit jarred by this new approach. One student asked, “Aren’t we paying you to teach? Why are we working in groups to learn from each other if we came to learn from you?”
In response, the professor reverted back to the traditional lecture format with the same cohort. After all, it was a lot of work for her to facilitate learning in the new model. Two weeks into the spring semester, the same student stated, “Hang on. We are here and participating but it is harder to understand some of the information, and we don’t look forward to class like we did last semester.” Others chimed in that the experimental semester was more work, but that the material was easier to absorb and recall. They preferred the more interactive model. So my friend went back to the flipped curriculum model with an active learning classroom. It was the first ever flipped curriculum on this small college campus. She hasn’t looked back since!
This story illustrates the resistance to and effectiveness of concepts like the flipped classroom, which reverses the typical pedagogical model by having students absorb the lesson (via video or text) at home, then come into school the next day to apply that knowledge with their peers.
I believe that my acquaintance’s students, accustomed to just sitting there while a teacher lectured, weren’t fully engaged in the learning experience. Her experiment opened their eyes to a methodology that makes learning less about seeking information, and more about applying it.
Great story….but how does this impact the classroom?
From Factory to Stage
I’ve asked many architects and educators to describe their favorite place to learn. Though the responses have been quite diverse, there is one space that none of them has named: the classroom!
The new classroom adapts to group efforts with a variety of configurations.
We Baby Boomers and Gen Xers grew up with a factory model classroom based on efficiency and lectures rather than on flexibility and interaction. The rooms were designed so light came in over the student’s left shoulder and everyone was packed in rows.
That scenario does not accommodate today’s students, who’ve grown up with unlimited information just a couple mouse clicks away. “The new classroom focuses less on students taking in information, and more on what to do with that information,” says Sylvia Kowalk, senior interior design at Legat Architects. “It’s less about individual performance, and more about group efforts for inquiry-based, project-based, and work-based formats.”
Here are a few skills that today’s students have to master to compete effectively in a global environment:
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
- IT/media literacy
- Global sensitivities
If we as architects and interior designers are to develop educational settings that truly help instructors teach these skills, then we have to reexamine the traditional classroom design. Students shouldn’t be stifled in that factory model. They should thrive in an environment that is as flexible and exciting as a Broadway stage.