Today we welcome to the Mosaic Blog our Mosaic Research Assistant, Merve Basdogan. Merve is currently an Instructional Systems Technology PhD candidate at Indiana University. In this first blog of the year, Merve shares her recent research on one of our newly redesigned Mosaic classrooms:
“Learning space is an agent that shapes the teaching and learning activities as well as social interactions. As higher education classrooms adopt more flexible, collaborative, and fluid spaces with a range of furniture settings, it is important to researchers and educators to understand how these new generation learning environments influence the nature of learning and teaching patterns.
In line with this aim, in the Spring 2020 semester, we examined faculty practices and student experiences in Cedar Hall-102 which is an active learning classroom at Indiana University Bloomington. Under the guidance of Dr. Stacy Morrone, we aimed to understand collaboration and the use of space through classroom recordings, daily room usage checklist, and interviews.
We call this room “The Collaboration Café” due to its less formal and collaborative nature. For example, the room has movable chairs and tables to allow flexible seating and easy navigation. It also has some coffee house features such as colorful and soft sofa seating options, small coffee tables, and large windows allowing natural sunlight, to create a less formal learning atmosphere. Portable whiteboards for students’ use, a large projection screen, a teacher’s station, and power outlets on the floor are the technical components of the Collaborative Café.
As the graduate research assistant of this project, my first researcher role included obtaining the study’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval followed by recruiting faculty members and getting student consents to be recorded. Two faculty agreed to be video recorded while teaching in the Collaborative Café and three faculty completed daily room usage checklists throughout the semester. These faculty members were from different departments and they taught various courses such as Web Design Course, Recreational Therapy, and Politics and The Media. In the third week of the Spring semester, I visited each class and informed students regarding the study purpose. With the help of the Learning Spaces team at IU, we had also identified blinds spots to give all students the option to sit behind the camera, so they were not captured if they felt uncomfortable with the filming. In three sections, only 2 out of 248 students preferred to sit outside the camera angle. For me, it was an interesting finding to see that most students do not feel uncomfortable with a research camera and they acted very naturally throughout the semester.
In the end, we analyzed fifty-six hours of classroom video recordings from three undergraduate classes. The video analysis method included segmenting each video into one-minute pieces and scanning for variation. When we detected a new instructional activity such as lecturing, guiding, questioning, or discussion, we coded the activity in terms of Interaction, Technology, and Movement dimensions using an MS Excel Sheet.
The aggregated quantitative results of the video analysis and daily room use checklists submitted by faculty suggested that faculty’s choice of instructional strategy is very important in shaping the use of space, technology, and students’ active and collaborative learning behaviors in the classroom. If they select to take advantage of the technical and spatial affordances of the room, active learning occurs. However, in this case, the faculty mostly used PowerPoint Presentations and stayed close to the teacher station. The figure below highlights some other key findings:
Next, in the interviews, we asked the faculty the specific situations in which the Collaboration Café worked well and did not work well. Five faculty responded to this request and the “seamless transition” between the group activities and individual activities was reported as one the best advantages of the design of Collaboration Café. Similarly, the large room layout and large windows were also found functional by the faculty. In terms of challenges, the lack of a focal point in the classroom was among the negative aspects of the setting as detailed in the following figure.
This empirical observation suggests to us that faculty members are the most significant actors that allow or inhibit to take advantage of the full capacities of an active learning classroom. If the faculty depends less on the teacher-centered lecture format and encourages more consulting, small group activities, and whole-class discussions; the technology and furniture in the room will be utilized more effectively. For example, in this research, one of the courses taught in the Collaboration Café was a Web Design course. Although the nature of the course mostly required students to sit and run the codes on their laptops, the faculty integrated “huddle whiteboards” into the lesson and enabled students to write the codes together before running on the laptop. I think this strategy both contributed to active learning as well as students’ sense of community. Similarly, in the Recreational Therapy course, the faculty spent most of his instructional time using PowerPoint presentations to deliver the theory, case, and fact-heavy content. However, the video recordings showed that he used “interactive dialogs” with students to involve them in the presentation by asking their perspectives and experiences related to that week’s course objectives.
Thus, intentional and sustained faculty development is pivotal to enhance classroom success in innovative learning and teaching spaces. In addition, the presence of teaching assistants in the active learning space seemed to increase students’ opportunity to consult with experts and ask more questions through the class. For the large active learning classrooms like Collaboration Cafe, having a graduate or undergraduate teaching assistant offers a great potential to support collaboration and dialog between the individuals.”
Merve Basdogan’s research focuses on exploring, understanding, and supporting strategies for learners’ engagement in both online and face-to-face contexts with an emphasis on personalized and technology-supported learning design. Merve is currently working for IU’s Mosaic Active Learning Initiative to research active and flexible learning. Follow her on Twitter @MerveBasdogan.
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