(Re)designing a Classroom to Put Students First

A statistics specialist and a technology developer in the Department of Statistics joined forces to transform 311 Central Classroom Building into an immersive learning environment where undergraduates could discover, apply, and share statistical concepts and ideas. The result is a room full of students debating and dissecting correlation and regression, surveys and experiments, sampling distributions and probability. No one is left out—everyone is engaged.

Dr. Deborah Rumsey, statistics education specialist, and Kythrie Silva, learning technology developer, were asked to redesign the classroom because of their earlier success transforming the Mathematics and Statistics Learning Center (MSLC) into a model environment of support services for student learning.

“From the beginning, our goal was to create a space where students would connect, with one another and their teachers,” said Rumsey.

Together, Rumsey and Silva reconfigured the room into a circular-style classroom with no designated front or back, and altered linear table space into groupings of workstations. Each table has space for four to six students, each with a single computer, putting the focus on personal interaction.

“It really helps to work in groups,” said a student at one of the many work stations in 311. “We help each other when we get stuck, and we’re motivated to get the problem solved right.”

Others agree, “We all feel comfortable asking questions here,” said one student. “Everyone’s so busy working and talking that all eyes aren’t on you when you raise your hand—it’s much less intimidating than sitting in a big row in a classroom.”

Students in a redesigned statistics classroom.Teaching assistants, working in teams of two, easily move around the 72-student classroom engaging and supporting students. To further support this active learning environment, Silva included technology that sends the instructors’ computer screen to the desktops at student work stations; the technology also allows students to share their work with the class.

Graduate teaching assistants Sara Conroy and Emily Bayer are hooked. “I love having immediate access to students,” Emily said. “I walk up to the tables and I can see it in their eyes—I know if they understand the assignments; I know if they need help.”

For Sara, a self-described “instructor who needs to walk and talk,” roaming the classroom and stopping by student tables is what makes for effective communication. “Hands fly up all over the place—when the students are asking questions, I know they’re engaged, with each other and with me.”

According to Dr. Rumsey, the drop rate for statistic classes taught in 311 has decreased since the new configuration, and student satisfaction and performance on class projects has increased. In addition, there has been a gradual decline in the number of requests for help outside the class.