New Classroom QEP Concept Encourages Student Engagement
Oct. 7, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney
After a year that has been anything but traditional, Sam Houston State University instructors are still finding new and innovative ways of maximizing their effectiveness in the classroom while also supporting students’ individual needs and objectives.
One example of the dedication of SHSU faculty to student scholarship is the recent launch of the Engaging Classrooms QEP, an initiative aimed at encouraging active learning on campus.
The 2019–2024 Engaging Classrooms QEP will provide the resources, support, and motivation for full-time faculty members to integrate the evidence-based best practice of active learning in their classrooms. One aspect of the QEP involves redesigning two classrooms each year for a total of 10 “Engaging Spaces.” Each space is conceived and proposed by interested faculty.
Though active learning classrooms are typically busy spaces designed with an open-concept layout, their versatile functionality allows each room to support social-distancing guidelines, making them a safe environment for collaborations.
“Instructors will find that they can easily move about the room, reposition tables and chairs to suit team or individual activities, and use the room’s technologies to make their subjects as engaging as possible. Engaging learning is about engaging teaching, so the goal is to have everyone in the room interacting in ways that go beyond what is possible in the typical classroom,” Brian Blackburne, chair of the Engaging Spaces committee said.
The first two rooms were developed in coordination with Brandy Doleshal, associate director for development of the QEP, from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and Jacob Blevins from the Department of English.
The classroom located in Lee Drain 208 is geared for students in mathematics courses—and their professors, who often require large white areas for writing equations and solving problems. This room seats 24 students (when social distancing isn’t in place) and has chairs and tables that roll easily for different seating and working configurations. The room also has two overhead projectors so that students on either side of the room can have direct view of content that the instructor is sharing via the computer, the document projector, or a personal laptop.
“Like many of my colleagues in the Department of Math & Statistics, I like to get students up and moving around, writing on boards and talking to each other,” Doleshal said. “The goal for the classroom was to have lots of board space and moveable, communal tables to encourage interaction between students. We also made sure to upgrade technology for those teaching in the room that prefer a more traditional method. The classroom definitely fulfills that vision.”
The space in the Evans Complex, room 260, seats 18 students (when social distancing isn’t in place) and also has tables and chairs that can be easily rolled into different positions. This room also has two overhead projectors, large white boards on the wall, and hand-held white boards that students can use at their desks and then hang on the wall or display where they are sitting.
Another significant feature of these rooms is the impressive application of technology to inspire innovation and aide in remote instruction. Both are equipped with cameras and microphones to support instructors who want to broadcast in-class activities for remote students.
“The rooms could be used to have remote guest speakers or to display recorded activities that happen outside of the classroom,” Blackburne said. “In the event that a course is team-taught by two instructors, one could be in the classroom with students while the other is participating remotely.”
For Doleshal, she is most excited about getting students up out of their chairs and working together on the white boards in the future. However, she notes that the design of the classroom is flexible, easily adaptable, and able to facilitate a wide variety of teaching strategies and learning modalities.
“Because we upgraded technology, the classroom is still a great place to teach,” Doleshal said. “Fewer students fit and the vision of an active room where people are interacting closely is definitely on hold, but I am able to interact with students in person and via Zoom in a much less awkward way than my other classroom.”
According to Blackburne, the difference between an active learning space and a typical classroom should be immediately evident upon entering the space.
“We want instructors to see the ways that SHSU supports best practices in education and—more importantly—their ideas for creating active learning environments. Each room is a canvas where instructors and students can work together, exploring possibilities and learning from each other,” Blackburne said. “We also want students to see that learning activities can vary depending on the type of course, number of students, etc. Not all classrooms need to be active/engaging spaces, so when students walk into one of these rooms, we want them to see and feel the difference.”
Interested in developing your own active learning classroom? Engaging Spaces proposals for the 2021-2022 academic year are now available and due by March 5, 2021 (https://www.shsu.edu/qep/new/space).
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