Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

University Classroom Design Principles to Facilitate Learning: The Instructor as Advocate

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

University Classroom Design Principles to Facilitate Learning: The Instructor as Advocate

Article excerpt

The design of the course must be accommodated by the design of the classroom, or conversely, the design of the classroom must be accommodated by the design of the course.

STUDENTS ACROSS HIGHER EDUCATION DISCIPLINES enroll in many different types of courses taught in a range of formats from large introductory lectures to doctoral seminars. These courses are taught in classroom environments that vary greatly with the type of course. In general, architects define the types of college classrooms with broad categories like (a) seminar, (b) classroom with loose seating, (c) larger classroom with fixed seating (lecture hall typically with 50 to 150 seats), (d) collaborative classroom with tables for active learning, and (e) auditorium (see, for example, Arizona State University 2011; Montana State University 2012; or University of Maryland 2004). Furthermore, different instructors may take very different approaches to teaching the same course, even if they are using the same type of classroom.

The design of the course must be accommodated by the design of the classroom, or conversely, the design of the classroom must be accommodated by the design of the course. As stated by architect Patrick Pouler (1994, p. 175):

Space is neither innocent nor neutral: it is an instrument of the political; it has a performative aspect for whoever inhabits it; it works on its occupants. At the micro level, space prohibits, decides what may occur, lays down the law, implies a certain order, commands and locates bodies.

Instructors are charged with doing their best to ensure that students achieve designated learning outcomes, and thus they must take an active interest in ensuring that the learning environment is optimal for reaching these goals (Beichner 2014; Oblinger 2006). University administrators, space planners, and architects are also interested in having optimal designs for effective student learning. They want to know what instructors think about classroom design and what they want in their classrooms. Furthermore, administrators and space planners face other pressures; for example, they are expected to keep costs in check by keeping the classroom space per student low and classroom utilization and occupancy high. Again quoting Patrick Pouler (1994, p. 175), "Architectural design review is a social practice and as such cannot avoid being part of a complex network of power structures and relationships." Johnson and Lomas (2005) explain that the traditional process for designing classrooms is often driven by space needs, and traditional concepts of space design are dominated by the capacity of the room. As an alternative, Johnson and Lomas (2005) advocate for an approach in which the design begins with thinking about the activities that are appropriate for the learning outcomes to be achieved. In this approach, planning treats "the learning environment as a 'product' to be developed rather than simply as a space to be redesigned" (p. 20). Therefore, it is vital that instructors take an active role in (a) understanding what classroom designs facilitate learning given the techniques they are using or wish to use, (b) advocating to make available classrooms with structures that facilitate learning activities directed at optimal learning outcomes, (c) advocating for design processes that center around learning outcomes, and (d) making either long-term or class-to-class modifications to existing classrooms to facilitate innovative learning approaches. Often it is up to the ingenuity of the instructor to make effective use of the space available. Furthermore, since instructors typically do not have a personal or commercial interest in any of the design choices, they can give opinions without much potential for a conflict of interest.

Often it is up to the ingenuity of the instructor to make effective use of the space available.

This article reviews a number of principles of classroom design and discusses them from the instructors' point of view. …

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