back to news March 17, 2010

(Re) designing a Classroom to Put Students First

Place students in a space that demands interaction (talking to others) and brings them into close contact with professors and you’re well on your way to “putting students first.”

Dr. Deborah Rumsey, statistics education specialist, and Kythrie Silva, learning technology developer, Department of Statistics, have redesigned room  311 of the Central Classroom building into an immersive learning environment for undergraduates to 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.

In 2007, Rumsey and Silva were asked by the university 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. Under Rumsey and Silva’s direction, MSLC programs and spaces were redesigned and redeveloped, simultaneously, to maximize learning, improve study habits, and increase the number of study teams.

“From the beginning, our goal for 311 was to create a space where students connect - both with one another and their teachers,” says 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 work stations (each table has space for 4–6 students), each with a single computer – putting the focus on personal interaction rather than interaction with the computer.

The teaching model for room 311 was also reimagined. Rather than lecturing from a stationary lectern, teaching assistants work in teams of two, easily moving around the 72-student classroom engaging and supporting students as learning facilitators. Through a wide range of materials and resources Rumsey developed for the course, students have easy access to support and guidance with their assignments and projects. In addition, Silva included technology that sends the instructors’ computer screen to all the desktops located at student work stations; the technology also allows students to share their work with the class.

“The new configuration creates a sense of empowerment and confidence for the students and allows the instructors to move into work spaces engaging and challenging the students,” says Silva.

But does it work?

According to Dr. Rumsey, the drop rate for statistic classes taught in room 311 has decreased since the new configuration, and student satisfaction and performance on in-class activities and projects has increased. In addition, there has been a gradual decline in the number of requests for help outside the class. Perhaps the best indicator of whether the new configuration is a success comes from the students themselves. “I don’t get frustrated,” says one of the students at a work station. I know I can just turn around and get help.”