Does the Room Matter?

This week I would like to share research on effective learning spaces. In a recent (2016) article by Stoltzfus & Libarkin (2016) entitled, "Does the Room Matter? Active Learning in Traditional and Enhanced Lecture Spaces," they explore the effect of tech-enhanced classrooms on learning.

The authors operationalize SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies) classrooms as spaces which includes tables with power outlets and flat-screen monitors on which the instructor or students can display digital content; and four large screens located at the corners of the room.

Authors note that few studies have carefully analyzed student outcomes when comparable active learning–based instruction takes place in a traditional learning space. Using a quasi-experimental design, they compared student performance between sections of a non-majors biology course.

Results showed that students in both sections thought that SCALE-UP would enhance performance (refer to earlier blog post on Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning). However, measures of actual student performance showed no difference between the two sections. They concluded that, it is the active learning and not the SCALE-UP that enhances performance. As a consequence, they suggest that institutions can modify classrooms to enhance engagement without incorporating expensive technology.

Further, the authors found no significant difference in individual or group effort and no significant difference on classroom assessment performance between the sections. Performance was measured by both direct (Individual assignments - homework, short paper, exam grades, responses on student mobile devices were used to determine individual participation); and indirect (perception surveys) data.

The authors conclude that "on the basis of their results in conjunction with results from prior work (Andrews et al., 2011; Brooks & Solheim, 2014; Straumsheim, 2014; Jensen et al., 2015), adding technology to a classroom, remodeling classrooms to facilitate interactions or even adding active learning to a course is not a panacea that produces better outcomes for students."

Instead, highly skilled instructors with intimate understanding of education research and active-learning pedagogy can have significant favorable impact on student learning, therefore scarce resources may be best spent on 1) training faculty, 2) providing flexible spaces rather than embedding expensive technology into rooms, and 3) maintaining smaller sections or providing well-trained graduate teaching assistants.

Stoltzfus, J. R., & Libarkin, J. (2016). Does the Room Matter? Active Learning in Traditional and Enhanced Lecture Spaces. CBE life sciences education, 15(4), ar68. doi:10.1187/cbe.16-03-0126

Andrews, T., Leonard, M., Colgrove, C., & Kalinowski, T. (2011). Active learning not associated with student learning in a random sample of college biology courses. CBE Life Sci Educ 10, 394–405.

Brooks, D., & Solheim, C. (2014). Pedagogy matters, too: the impact of adapting teaching approaches to formal learning environments on student learning. New Dir Teach Learn 137, 53–61.

Jensen, J., Kummer, T., & Godoy, P. (2015). Improvements from a flipped classroom may simply be the fruits of active learning. CBE Life Sci Educ 14.

Straumsheim, C. (2014). Room to experiment. Inside Higher Ed. -ball-state-us-faculty-development-program (accessed 7 September 2015).

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