North Central College - Naperville, IL

Test subjects enjoying the experiment

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Gregory Wolf, associate professor of German and German film students
Gregory Wolf, associate professor of German and German film students

Nine professors and their students are test subjects in a Learning Studio Research classroom that incorporates the latest thinking in teaching spaces and furniture design. The project is a collaboration with Herman Miller and Widmer Interiors and allows the College to collect needed information.

“The research we gather from this project during winter and spring terms will help inform our discussions about teaching spaces in a new science center,” says Marti Bogart, associate dean for academic affairs. “This is a very unique space compared to the standard classrooms we have now.”

The larger-than-normal classroom in Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium houses a cart of laptop computers, tables, chairs and dividers with whiteboards that can be moved on a whim. Group modules, large circles, rows and squares are all possible during the same class period. The whiteboards can divide the room into small discussion spaces. Large erasable panels on the back wall are also used for problem-solving and sharing ideas.

“This classroom is a fantastic learning environment,” says Carin Silkaitis, assistant professor of theatre. “It’s easily adaptable to anything we're doing.  We can set up theatre-style seating to show a film. Then, in about three minutes, we can switch to small groups and each has a whiteboard for discussion. Then, we come back together to look at everyone's notes. I absolutely feel that my students participate more  . . . there is no question.”

Courtney Doyle ’14 enjoys the changing arrangements in Silkaitis’ class. “I really like that we switch the desks around every day to experiment with what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “This makes the environment more interesting.”

Professor of Education Rebecca Clemente appreciates the room’s fresh colors and openness. “I can actually circulate during class in a way that I have not been able to do in my 14 years at North Central,” she says. “Everything is so easy to use that the decision to change desk arrangements or use the laptops is seamless and a natural part of planning for each day.”

The availability of multiple laptops is a real asset to the German Film course taught by Gregory Wolf, associate professor of German. "My students can work in pairs with laptops and each pair is assigned to watch a different film clip," he explains. "We're not confined to one computer in the classroom."

The flat tables accommodate the learning tools needed for science students and placing them in groups benefits learning, reports Nancy Peterson, professor of chemistry, who co-teaches General Chemistry with Jeffrey Bjorklund, professor of chemistry. “Jeff and I can easily move between groups to give individual help. Students seem much more willing to ask questions when they are not having to ask in front of the class, so we are able to identify and correct mistakes before they fall behind.” 

The College is collecting data from students and professors before, during and after each term. The Learning Studio Research Program will continue in spring term 2011 with different courses and faculty.

For more photos of the flexible classroom space, visit our Flickr gallery.