Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Studio Classrooms and Student Centered Learning in Traditional Microscopy Courses

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Studio Classrooms and Student Centered Learning in Traditional Microscopy Courses

Article excerpt


A studio classroom involves few traditional lectures. Instead it emphasizes collaborative/cooperative learning and active learning. The instructor acts as a facilitator while the students work together to learn, in Geology courses involving petrographie microscopes, engaging students in cooperative learning may be problematic. Microscopy traditionally involves individual students using seperate petrographic microscopes. Digital microscopy using digital cameras to provide live video feed to a video monitor can help change a microscopy lab into a studio-style classroom. Students can work together on labs, teach each other to identify common rock-forming minerals, and piece together geologic histories and environment of formations in a highly collaborative environment. Once students adjust to the classroom environment, studio-style work carries over easily into class activities that don't necessarily involve the microscope. Studio classrooms promote higher test scores and students learn the importance of group work and in class presentations.


Although college classrooms have traditionally been lecture-based, many alternative pedagogies have been shown to increase student learning and facilitate classroom dynamics. Most involve active learning. Active learning encourages students to be an integral part of the class with discussion, reading, writing, and reflection by decreasing the dependence on the passive lecture format (Meyers and Jones, 1993). Many math and science departments have recognized the need to emphasize active learning by focusing on cooperative and collaborative learning activities (Wilson, 1994; DeLoughry, 1995; Yu and Stokes, 1998). Cooperative learning involves students teaching students, individual accountability, social interaction skills, and group interdependence (Cooper et al., 2003, Johnson et al., 1990 and 1991). Cooperative class sessions involve the introduction, investigation, and reporting of results within and between groups of students while the instructor acts as a facilitator rather than a lecturer. Collaborative learning is very similar to cooperative learning, but the students typically receive less direction and often there is less reflection of group interaction than in cooperative learning environments (Cooper et al., 2003). Each of these pedagogies has been shown to significantly increase student learning in different classroom situations.

Instructors may organize a studio classroom in a variety of ways, but the fundamental concept is that a studio classroom includes the predominantly cooperative/collaborative student work that is creative and generates conversation (Perkins, 2005). The original studio classrooms were, perhaps, art classes with lengthy blocks of time designated for project development and critique. Although long class periods may be part of the studio classroom, they are not necessary.

Traditional lecture halls work poorly for studio teaching. At some institutions, changing to a studio classroom involves altering the physical layout of a room from standard rows of desks. Some institutions have changed room to create a "comfortable workshop setting" or a "theater-in-the-round classroom" that enables small groups of students to interact easily around a focal point (e.g. computer workstation, microscope) (Wilson, 1994; Yu and Stokes, 1998). The focal point in the classroom must be flexible for the transition from small group to classroom discussion format. (Roy, 2003).

Some institutions have used digital petrography in courses, but often as a virtual learning tool in the form of an on-line tutorial (Milliken et al., 2003). Digital petrography at Illinois State University has been used as the springboard for fully integrated studio learning. The studio classroom I describe in this paper initially involved changing the focal point to microscope stations while replacing formal lecture time with more student-led classroom learning experiences. …

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