The English department has three computer lab spaces: LA-202, LA-204, and LA-206. Rooms LA-202 and LA-204 are each equipped with desktop computers and a standard podium and overhead projector for instructor use. LA-206 was remodeled in the Summer of 2016 to be redesigned as the Collaborative Learning Space.
What is in the Collaborative Learning Space?
The room features five interactive workstations, with big-screen TVs and Solstice devices that allow for wifi streaming from phones, tablets, and laptops. A sixth table and a sixth larger TV and Solstice device allows for instructors to directly stream learning content to an entire class at once.
The space also boasts a large, comfortable couch with a coffee table and additional stools, as well as three large mobile whiteboards. The north end of the space features a dry erase wall, where students and faculty may further collaborate and write together. Finally, the room has a fully-equipped laptop cart, with laptops available for checkout while in the room.
Why Did We Change the Room?
Those familiar with the Liberal Arts building may wonder why LA-206 has been drastically changed from our other computer labs. In short, we were responding to faculty and student needs for a more collaborative, student-centered learning environment. Decisions for this room were guided in a myriad of ways, which we have outlined below.
Reason #1: The desktop computers were not being used
In January 2016 the English Department’s Technology Committee took a survey of all instructors who consistently teach in the department’s labs and discovered that 100% of students and teachers did not use the majority of the desktop computers that line the walls of our labs; 87% never used them at all. 52% of respondents reported that about a third of their students brought their own devices, while 43% said that more than half of their students preferred and brought their own devices for use in class. Furthermore, many instructors reported in their qualitative responses that the existing computers were slow and cumbersome. This clearly helped inform our decision that the money that was annually spent toward purchasing desktop computers for the computer labs could potentially be leveraged in a better way for student learning.
Because 100% of survey respondents told us that they had never seen more than six or seven desktop computers being used at once, we replaced 25 desktop computers with a suite of eight brand-new laptops.
Reason #2: Projection technology was outdated
We also received consistent feedback, both from the survey and anecdotally, that the podium and projection technology was outdated, slow, or had other issues (such as burned out bulbs or not consistently turning on or off). Therefore, we replaced the expensive projection technology with updated wifi technologies that allow students and instructors to stream to one of five 40” TVs in the room, or to a central 60” TV.
Reason #3: Furniture was broken and insufficient to seat a full classroom
One of the biggest concerns about the existing space was with regard to the furniture. Classes held in our labs have a maximum cap of 25 students. In the old space, when a class was full, not every student could have a good seat: that is, at a table that wasn’t broken, and in a position to clearly see the instructor and anything that was being projected in the room. Therefore, the new classroom design features five new large tables, seating five people each, as well as an instructor’s table, extra chairs, a couch, and three stools — plenty of comfortable, modern seating to seat an entire class plus guests, with lines of sight to every TV monitor in the room.
We also designed the room with accessibility and equity in mind. The table closest to the door of LA-206 is height-adjustable; and we purchased a suite of chairs that both have arms (to assist those who need help standing) and without (to assist those who need a larger space to sit). All of our decisions were carefully and mindfully determined to ensure that the space could be used equally and fairly.
Reason #4: Whiteboard space was blocked by the projection screen
With the original lab classroom layout, the small whiteboard that was in the room was nearly entirely blocked by the screen from the projector, effectively making it unusable. Many instructors mentioned this frustration. Therefore, in the new space we added three large, mobile whiteboards, as well as an entire wall space that has been painted in dry erase paint — giving both instructors and students many options to present and collaborate on information using whiteboards.
Reason #5: Instructors asked for a more collaborative space
In the survey, several instructors also mentioned that the existing layout — which featured desktop computers around the perimeter of the room — was challenging to be able to encourage students to work in groups. Thus, the Collaborative Learning Space was designed as a learning environment where instructors could bring students together collectively and in smaller groups to collaboratively imagine, create, and write.
Reason #6: Research has shown that an active learning environment is best for students
Based on extensive pedagogical research, our Collaborative Learning Space uses what is called a SCALE-UP model (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies). SCALE-UP classrooms put students first, by emphasizing active learning opportunities for students, with a focus on hands-on application of materials and concepts. Decades of research has shown that SCALE-UP learning environments:
- Help students exceed final grade expectations.
- Affect teaching-learning activities, even when the instructor attempts to hold these activities constant.
- Are not conducive to a lecture-based approach; student performance improves when instructors move to active, student-centered teaching methods.
- Are perceived in a largely positive light by students and instructors, but some adjustment of teaching techniques is necessary (Univ. of Minnesota, 2016).
Our research so far shows that we may be the first university to implement a SCALE-UP learning environment in an English Department. Similar spaces have been designed at institutions such as North Carolina State University, Clemson University, University of Minnesota, McGill University, Stanford University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Georgia Tech, among others. The English Department at Boise State is one of the first such spaces at Boise State and possibly the first English Department worldwide to implement a SCALE-UP model.
What Should I Expect if I am Scheduled to Teach in the Collaborative Learning Space?
Depending on your teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach, the room will either be a natural fit, or something that requires a bit of getting used to. The space has specifically been designed for instructors who primarily use (or would like to learn to use) active, collaborative learning techniques that focus on in-class activities and student-centered collaboration.
In the space, students and instructors each have access to directly stream content to any TV in the room, and from nearly any device (phone, tablet, or laptop). All it takes is a quick installation of an app, and your devices will be ready to connect to any monitor in the room. This means that the possibilities for instructor-student collaboration are nearly limitless, from breaking students into groups, to bringing everyone together for a rich discussion. Instructors should expect to find that there is intentionally no one focal point to the room. Rather than the attention being aimed at a projection screen or instructor, the learning in the space is shared among all participants.
Whereas the Collaborative Learning Space does feature a central monitor where instructors can display and stream content to an entire class, instructors who rely primarily on a lecture-based pedagogy may find that a more traditional classroom may better suit their needs.
How Can I Get Training on the New Technology?
All instructors who are scheduled to teach in LA-206 will be given hands-on training on the room’s technologies, as well as ideas for how to work in and adapt to the space. If you are not one of the instructors currently scheduled to teach in the room, or if you would simply like more information, please feel free to contact the Director of Technology and Web Presence: Dr. Carly Finseth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why Does the Lab Have This, or Not Have That?
The short answer to this question is budget. While the Technology Committee has done their best to recommend technological solutions for the lab that suits everyone’s needs, we couldn’t meet everyone’s wish list for this year. However, we do have plans moving forward to update additional lab classrooms and add further functionalities, as needed, and as the budget permits.
Who Do I Contact if I Have Further Questions About LA-206 or the English Department Lab Classrooms?
The faculty on the 2015-2016 Technology Committee (Dr. Carly Finseth, Shauna Anderson, and Dr. Michal Temkin-Martinez) would like to thank many people who helped make this lab remodel possible. This renovation had many twists and turns, as well as innumerable unexpected surprises. COAS IT Systems Manager Dave Monroe and Department Manager Kim Brandt managed the majority of the work without complaint. As we planned the project and as we needed to troubleshoot, Grace Tuttle of OIT/Learning Technology Solutions unselfishly provided expertise and resources. Lana Grover and Devshikha Bose of the IDEA Shop supported us with advice and research. Thank you, too, to our Financial Technician Randy Tucker, and to Helen Davis and April Lanningham of the Boise State Capital Planning and Space Management team, for helping us plan and budget the renovation. We also couldn’t have done any of this without the support of the Boise State Facilities Operations and Maintenance staff. And, of course, thank you to our Department Chair, Dr. Michelle Payne, for supporting our efforts.
Thank you to the English Department faculty, staff, and students for your support!