The intersection of space and pedagogy: Identifying elements of classroom design that support innovative curriculum delivery

Presented by: Wendy Hynes, Barb Young

The 2010 National Science Foundation report recommendation to diminish standard lecture instruction in support of active engagement (Reed-Rhoads et. al., 2010; Mason et. al., 2013) prompted an engineering program at a major university to redesign its introductory courses while developing new physical space to support them. As the program continues to grow, and the curriculum continues to evolve, the university is exploring the expansion of additional classroom space for the introductory courses. This poster will explore the design of new classroom spaces which consider the history of previously developed space and changes in pedagogy along with current conditions, projected growth and potential change. In order to understand how students learn and interact with the current engineering classrooms, a partnership was formed between the interior design research team (consisting of faculty and graduate students) and the university’s School of Engineering Education. Two different classroom types were created in the program’s initial redesign. Each classroom accommodates 120 students. The Classroom Studio resembles a more traditional tiered lecture hall with a single teaching wall; marker boards, projection screens, and instructor podium. Students sit at tables on the tiers, oriented toward the front of the room. The Design Studio resembles a project work room with the instructor podium in the center. Students sit at long rows of counter height tables facing each other. Projection media is present in six locations, along 3 walls with the capability of displaying different material simultaneously. Since its inception, the curriculum and class structure have continued to evolve and grow. To accommodate 17+ sections of the course, both classrooms are now used simultaneously to teach the same activities. To allow all instructors and students access to both classroom environments, the sections currently alternate between the two regardless of planned activities. By observing consistent curriculum delivery in the two classroom arrangements, the interior design team will investigate whether the space arrangement impacts activities and behavior of teachers and students. Transformation of space and curriculum delivery for active learning has typically occurred simultaneously as illustrated in projects such as the North Carolina State University Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) classroom project, the Technology Enabled Active Learning Project (TEAL) at MIT, the Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage (TILE) classroom experiment at the University of Iowa, and the development of Active Learning Classrooms (ALC’s) at the University of Minnesota (Brooks et. al., 2014). Few studies, however, have isolated environment changes from curriculum changes to understand the impact for the influence of space on behavior. Data from instructor focus groups and survey will also be used to clarify observations and perceptions regarding efficacy of the two spaces. Results will be used to make recommendations for the design of a single prototype classroom which supports a variety of activities in the delivery of first year engineering education. The poster will incorporate graphics depicting the design solution for a higher-education classroom which supports active learning for first year engineering students including research notes, literature review, programming notes, schematic design, design development and FF&E specification.


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  • Mason, G., Shuman, T. R., and Cook, K.E. (2013) Comparing the effectiveness of an inverted classroom to a traditional classroom in an upper-division engineering course. IEEE Transactions on Education. 56(4) 430-435.
  • Rhoads, T., Imbrie, P.K., Haghighi, K., Radcliffe, D.F., Brophy, S., Ohland, M., and Holloway, E. (2010). Creating the ideas to innovation learning laboratory: A first-year experience based on research. International Journal of Engineering Education. 26(5) 1-14.