The Effects Of Different Seating Arrangements In Higher Education Computer Lab Classrooms On Student Learning, Teaching Style, And Classroom Appraisal

Project and Seminar Material for Computer Science Education

The Effects Of Different Seating Arrangements In Higher Education Computer Lab Classrooms On Student Learning, Teaching Style, And Classroom Appraisal


Abstract


This study investigated the physical arrangement of workstations, seating and equipment in computer lab classrooms and its effect on the social and physical settings of the classroom. The literature suggests that information technology (IT) encourages students to “learn by doing” and therefore affects student learning and teaching style within the technology-rich classroom environment. Zandervliet and Straker believe that the physical design of the seating, computer placement, and arrangement of space is often overlooked when IT is integrated into classrooms. However, no current research was found to support whether or not the physical design of higher education computer lab classrooms affects student learning, teaching style, and student and teacher appraisal of the classroom.

This study compared two differently arranged computer lab classrooms on the University of Florida campus. One computer lab classroom was configured in straight rows with a center aisle, while the other computer lab classroom was arranged in pods cross-shaped desks with a computer workstation at each end of the desk. Workstations and room arrangements were evaluated using measurements of the physical settings from the Computerized Classroom Environment Inventory (CCEI) instrument. A survey was conducted with 72 students and 5 teachers to appraise both the social and physical classroom settings.

The CCEI measures revealed deficiencies in the Computer, Workspace, and Visual environments in the straight row computer lab classroom, while the pod-arranged computer lab classroom only had a deficiency in the Computer workstation environment.

Observations and student/teacher survey responses revealed that the students in the straight row computer lab classroom were off task more often, had fewer student-to-­teacher interactions, helped other students more often, and were distracted more often than the students in the pod arrangement. The frequency of student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions indicated that the pod arrangement supported more collaboration than the straight row classroom. Nevertheless, over half of the students in both computer labs liked their classroom.

Further research is required to clarify the interactions between students and teachers in higher education IT classrooms. This study recommends that designers of IT classrooms (1), first, identify social intentions of the users and (2), second, design facilities to support student learning and teaching styles with appropriate equipment, furniture and physical layout.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

Technology is now the real environment shaper of school design.-Spurgeon, 1998: 46a. Architects, designers, and facility planners are under both societal and academic pressure to design and build university classrooms that support rapidly emerging “technological learning environments” (Carlson, 2002; Kettinger, 1991; Report of the IT Review Committee, 2001; and Zandvliet and Straker, 2001). Their major goal is to consider “providing an environment designed to enhance a student’s ability to understand, observe, and participate in active learning” (University of Washington Classroom Support Services, 1998, p 3). Increasingly, universities are struggling to invest in information technology (IT) and technology-rich classrooms in order to develop improved models of teaching and learning.

There is a growing body of empirical research about the impact of computers on student and teacher interaction and motivation (Zandvliet and Straker, 2001; Carlson, 2002). Some educators (Link to Learn: Technology Tutorials, 2000) believe that IT motivates individual students to learn by doing even though Liu, Macmillan, and Timmons (1998) found there was “no [measurable] effect on student achievement” (p189). Additionally, technology-rich environments affect both the process of exploration and the teaching style or presentation of the content (Cohen, 1997). A less understood component of IT classrooms is the physical design of the seating, furniture, computer placement, and arrangement of space. Cornell (2003) believes that ergonomic comfort, safety, and health needs must be addressed in order to promote well-being. Long before technology and IT classrooms, Sommer (1967) found that the seating position that a student selected in a general-purpose classroom was highly correlated with their participation in the class. However, no current research was found to support whether or not and how the physical arrangement of space, furniture, ergonomic comfort, and computer placement in computer lab classrooms supports the interactions and the efforts of the students and the teacher.


1.2 Statement of Purpose

This study addresses one part of the. changing IT classroom setting, specifically the physical arrangement of seating and furniture. Two differently arranged computer lab classrooms will be evaluated to understand the effect of the physical seating arrangement on (1) student and teacher interactions, as well as (2) their satisfaction with the classroom environment. The specific purposes of this study are to explore whether or not different seating arrangements of computer tables and computers in computer labs (straight rows versus pods shaped like a cross with computers at each end) affect:

  1. The amount of observed interaction among the students and teacher in a class;
  2. The reported style of teaching that is performed;
  3. The reported student’s perception of their own learning in these classrooms; and
  4. Student and teacher appraisal with the classroom setting.

1.3 Rationale

There are claims that technology rich classrooms (1) promote student interaction with media learning tools, (2) foster interaction among students themselves, (3) support communication with teachers, and (4) motivate. individual students to learn by doing (Carlson, 2002, and Zandvliet and Straker, 2001). Despite these claims, no significant research has confirmed them.

There are also beliefs that the physical environment plays an important role in the learning and teaching process. For example, Cornell (2003) believes that the shift from passive learning to active learning requires students to physically and mentally be more active. Therefore, the traditional “stand and deliver” method, which required long uninterrupted sitting, is becoming a more engaged process where students are allowed “greater movement and positioning” (Cornell, p 3). Cornell believes this more engaged process of learning reduces or eliminates drowsiness and muscle fatigue.

However, no research has provided evidence of whether or not and how the physical arrangement of space, furniture and equipment in differently arranged computer lab classrooms supports the efforts of students and the teacher. A first step taken in this study is to systematically compare two computer lab classrooms at the University of Florida, each with a different seating arrangement, in order to evaluate whether or not and how these physical arrangements affect student and teacher interaction and satisfaction.


1.4 Significance

For decades, the term “classroom” was characterized as a rectangular room where the “focus was directed to the front where the instructor exercised complete control of the pace, content, and sequence of activities” by using a blackboard and overhead projector (Cornell, 2003, p 1). However since 1984, student computer use in all levels of instruction has almost tripled (CEO Forum on Educational Technology, 2001) and technology is currently an important part of the educational process from grade school thiu higher education. Considering just how to integrate technological changes into current classroom settings is challenging administrators, faculty, designers, facility planners, and architects alike. Thus, educators, researchers, designers and facility planners, who specialize in school design, must learn how to create and renovate the “technological learning environments” that are slowly replacing the “one size fits all” classroom (Zandvliet and Straker, 2001).

Teaching and learning is no longer about the teacher standing at the front of the room and the students sitting at their hard, uncomfortable desks. Rather, it is about these new, complex “technological learning environments” that are more concerned with the people-machine interaction. Additionally, they must recognize that behavior related to flow humans teach and in turn learn is both linked to and affected by the physical qualities of the complex classroom environment (Gifford, 2002). Examining just one element of this rich environment, Swanquist (1998) found that comfortable classroom seating helped to improve the students’ attention span and also increased their retention of information.

In addition to influencing the shape of the physical learning environment, the implementation of technology in higher education is challenging educators to reevaluate their social role as teacher as well as their instructional methods. Ultimately, technology is slowly changing instruction. The traditional teacher-centered style of instruction, where teachers deliver the information and students sit silently taking notes, is slowly being replaced with student-centered learning (Nair, 2000). Similarly, many believe that effective learning rarely occurs passively’ (Nair, 2000; Halpern, 1994).

Educators have come to realize that effective instruction focuses on active involvement of students in their own learning, with opportunities for teacher and peer interactions that engage students’ natural curiosity. (Halpern, 1994, p 11) Neuman (2003) argues that information technology (IT) is forcing a revolution in how all of these players think about what makes a good “place of learning”. The term “place of learning” recognizes that learning can take place in any environment where people are actively motivated to do so. Student-centered learning requires active and inquisitive students. Hence, courses and classrooms that emphasize collaboration, computer use, and social learning are replacing the passive model of learning (Cornell, 2003).

Many educators believe it is important to make this switch away from memorizing a factual knowledge base to instead helping students learn the critical thinking skills required to produce knowledge. These higher order thinking skills include the mental abilities of interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation (Facione, 1996). Many believe that technology facilitates critical thinking skills by helping to motivate students and to retain their attention (Cohen, 1997; Enghagen, 1997; and Kettinger, 1991). Hence, learning environments should be designed in new ways that encourage the development of student-centered learning skills.

According to Kettinger (1991), “large sums of money are being expended to build and support computer classrooms, yet little research has been conducted to determine their value from either a teaching or cost/benefit point of view” (p 42). Therefore, a post occupancy evaluation of any new facility should be required to see if the technology and furnishings are being integrated properly within different classroom designs. Computer classrooms may only be effective in facilitating certain’ activities. Therefore, not all courses will require a fully equipped computer lab. Student outcomes should also be evaluated or compared to a course with similar goals that did not use a computer classroom. In other words, decision makers should ask, “What are the learning goals to which technology is applied?” (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2003).

At the University of Florida-the setting for this research-from the 1996-97 school year to the 1998-99 school year, the IT and communications budget went from $50 million a year to $62 million a year resulting in a nineteen percent increase (Office of Academic Technology: Classroom Support, 2003). Most of this budget was spent on wiring classrooms for the teachers to use PowerPoint presentations as an instructional tool and to allow access to the World Wide Web. However, in 2000-2001, the University of Florida allocated about 3 percent of the IT expenditures to enhance four campus computer lab classrooms.

A more significant budget output was unjustified because there is little or no evidence to ensure administrators that money spent to renovate existing classrooms into technology rich settings is effective. Therefore, empirical evidence is needed to find out whether or not IT classrooms that are designed to support a student­ centered learning paradigm, actually satisfy students and teachers and perhaps ultimately improve student learning.

Examining the role of the physical environment and its effect on teaching and learning can provide universities, architects, designers, and facility planners with a better understanding of how to design computer lab classrooms. Chapter 2 examines the past decades of teaching methods and learning styles and the integration of IT into classrooms. Chapter 3 explores the physical and social characteristics of educational learning environments.


1.5 Scope of the Study

This study compared two differently arranged computer lab classrooms on the University of Florida campus.


1.6 Limitation of the Study

Insufficient fund, time and unavailability of materials were the major constraints that the researcher encountered while carrying out this research work.


Chapter Five


Summary, Discussion, Conclusion and Recommendations:

5.1 Introduction

This chapter summarizes the findings into the effects of different seating arrangements in higher education computer lab classrooms on student learning, teaching style, and classroom appraisal”. The chapter consists of summary of the study, conclusions, and recommendations.


5.2 Summary of the Study

In this study, our focus was to examine the effects of different seating arrangements in higher education computer lab classrooms on student learning, teaching style, and classroom appraisal. The specific objective of this study are to explore whether or not different seating arrangements of computer tables and computers in computer labs (straight rows versus pods shaped like a cross with computers at each end) affect: The amount of observed interaction among the students and teacher in a class; The reported style of teaching that is performed; The reported student’s perception of their own learning in these classrooms; and student and teacher appraisal with the classroom setting.

The study adopted the survey research design and the survey comprise seventy-two (72) students and five (5) teachers from the case study.


5.3 Discussion

Advances in technological learning environments are pressuring university facilities planners to consider designing new classrooms or to renovate existing ones to facilitate new methods of teaching and styles of learning using computers. Many of these changes are done without addressing the needs of the users. Nonetheless, research is beginning to indicate that computer lab classrooms should be designed specifically to support and enhance particular teaching styles and learning processes. The shift from passive learning to active learning requires students to physically and mentally be active, and therefore a need for greater movement and flexibility is required (Cornell, 2003). In addition, it is important that the physical setting is designed to facilitate the needs of the user and the activities of the social setting in order to enhance the learning objectives and teaching process.

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of two types of computer lab classrooms with different seating arrangements on both teaching style and student learning. Information about the physical setting was collected using a Computerized Classroom Environment Inventory (CCEI) (Zandvliet and Straker, 2001) and an isovist analysis of the visual field. Information about the social setting and the students’ and teachers’ appraisal was collected from a student and a teacher survey of satisfaction with the physical characteristics and social characteristics of each computer lab classroom. Participants in this study included seventy-two undergraduate students and their five teachers.

This study was conducted on the University of Florida campus in two different computer lab classrooms. Two sections of a research methods course in the Sociology department were held in Classroom A—straight row arrangement, and two sections of a research methods course in the Criminology department were held in Classroom B— pod arrangement. The two sections of Classroom A provided the study with a sample of thirty students and three teachers—one section had a professor and a graduate teaching assistant. Two of the three teachers shared one section of the research methods course. Classroom B had a sample of forty-two students and two graduate teaching assistants.

Physical Setting Observations and Appraisals

Evaluation of the physical setting revealed that both types of computer lab classrooms contained deficiencies. Classroom A had deficiencies in the Workspace, Computer, and Visual environments. Classroom B revealed a deficiency in the Computer environment.

Isovist analyses of student computer screen adjustments and views in both settings were in agreement with the researcher’s own coding of each workstation screen adjustment and views of classroom activity.

Student survey responses showed significant differences concerning satisfaction with the physical setting. There were different opinions expressed among the teachers about whether or not the computer lab classroom seating arrangement facilitated their style of teaching. A detailed explanation of study findings follows.

CCEI Observations

Classroom A failed to meet the guideline measurements of the CCEI in three categories. Classroom A was deficient in the Workspace environment because the chairs were a collection of stationary chairs as well as many different styles of chairs on rolling casters, but without adjustable height and back support. Both Classrooms A and B were deficient in the Computer environment for the same reason—the adjustable angle of inclination of the monitor screens were preset. Classroom A was deficient in the Visual environment because it had poor indirect fluorescent lighting. Researchers (Swanquist, 1998; and Cornell, 2003) believe that deficiencies such as these contribute to muscle fatigue and drowsiness resulting in short attention span and lack of active engagement.

Isovist Analysis Compared With Observations

During observations, the researcher noted how the students adjusted their computer screens and chairs. These computer screen and chair adjustments were compared to the predetermined codes from the isovist analyses. When the degree of computer screen and chair adjustments made by the students were compared to the researcher’s codes of each workstation isovist view, the degree of adjustment coincided with the researcher’s assigned codes. Therefore, it seems that the isovist analysis is a useful tool for designers to use for evaluating the quality of the quality of the views and the classroom activities. Isovist analysis allows the designer to consider the important views from the end users’ perspective.

Student and Teacher Self-Reported Appraisals

According to all of the teachers, the style of teaching that they most often performed was the one-on-one and presentation styles of teaching. Teachers’ responses showed that the seating arrangement in Classroom B facilitated the teachers’ preferred style of teaching. The teachers in Classroom A felt that the seating arrangement met their needs. Yet, when the teachers in Classroom A were asked if they preferred a straight row arrangement versus a pod arrangement, two of the three teachers preferred the pod arrangement even though they had never taught in one before. Their reasons for choosing the pod arrangement were the ease of movement throughout the room and their ability to see more computer screens.

Students’ preference for their computer lab classroom revealed that more than half of the students in each computer lab classroom absolutely liked their classroom. However, architects, designers, and facility planners should also acknowledge the students’ and teachers’ suggestions. For example, students in both Classrooms A and B felt that they were “too clustered.” If architects, designers, and facility planners abide by the essential design elements suggested by Clabaugh et al. (1996), then they should provide each student with 20 square feet per student and at least 150 square inches of writing surface. Both Classroom A and B provided each student with at least 20 square feet. However, Classroom A only provided the students with approximately 90 square inches of writing surface, while Classroom B provided students with approximately 150 square inches of writing surface. Clabaugh et al. also suggests that teachers should be provided with an 18 by 24 inch table surface or podium along with a stool or chair.

Another negative comment in both Classroom A and B concerned the students’ view of the projection screen and marker board—14% of students in Classroom A and 7% of students in Classroom B. Negative comments about Classroom A may be attributed to the poor lighting as noted in the CCEI. Negative comments about difficulty viewing the projection screen in Classroom B may be attributed to the seating position of each individual student. For example, although the pod workstations are flexible, at least one or two students at each pod had to adjust their monitor screens and chairs in order to view the projection screen. Even with the monitor screen and chair adjustments, the students were still angled toward the projection screen. According to Clabaugh et al.
(1996), if the lights are dimmed, there must be at least 5 to 10 footcandles at the student worksurface, plus 10 to 15 lumens should be distributed across the chalkboard or marker board. These recommendations were not followed in the design of Classroom A.

Social Setting Observations and Appraisals

Observations and responses from the teachers’ and students’ survey provided insight about the social setting in the two different computer lab classrooms. Analysis of these observations revealed that one computer lab classroom had more off-task activities per class session, and one computer lab classroom had more student-to-teacher verbal interactions per class session. The survey responses of students in Classrooms A and B revealed significant differences between the social settings of the two different computer lab classrooms. These differences are discussed below under the categories of observations of the social setting, and students’ and teachers’ appraisals.

Observations

Although a t-test showed that there was no significant difference between off-task activities or student-to-teacher verbal interactions in the two different computer lab classrooms, observations suggest a trend in another direction (Table 6-1). Classroom A had 63% more off-task activities per class session than Classroom B. Therefore, Classroom A appeared to be teacher-centered where the students are passive learners and are less actively engaged than students in Classroom B. The less active students become distracted and participate in off-task activities. Observations also noted that the majority of the students who participated in off-task activities sat in the back of the computer lab classroom. Additionally, student-to-teacher verbal interaction occurred more in Classroom B by 41%. Hence, Classroom B appeared to be more conducive of student-to-teacher interactions and more conducive of the teacher carrying out the role of the facilitator or coach. The increased amount of student-to-teacher verbal interaction supports Cornell’s (2003) claim that classrooms that emphasize collaboration or interaction, computer use, and social learning show potential for replacing the passive model of learning. Therefore, in this study Classroom A seems to be teacher-centered and Classroom B seems to be student-centered.

Students’ Appraisals of Classrooms

A t-test comparing the students’ perception of teachers using the one-on-one teaching style in the two computer lab classrooms showed a significant difference (p<.05). The significance suggests that the teacher plays the role of facilitator, therefore creating a more active environment. This is also believed to enhance the students’ creative thinking skills. Therefore, the physical setting of Classroom B encourages an active, student-centered, learning environment.

There was significant evidence (p<.05) from the chi-squared test that the frequency of students helping each other was dependent on the style of computer lab classroom. Over half of the students in Classroom A thought that students often help each other. Fifty-four percent of the students in Classroom B, the “collaborative” computer lab, thought that students seldom help each other in class. This would be the opposite of what someone may expect from a “collaborative” classroom. Researchers (Cohen, 1997; Enghagen, 1997; and Kettinger, 1991) who believe that technology helps to motivate students and retain their attention should also recognize the concurrent impact of the physical characteristics of the room. If the technology and the physical design complement each other, then the learning environment will encourage group work, cooperation among students, and active learning (Goddard, 2002). Therefore, the learning environment can be designed to support student-centered learning skills or teacher-centered learning. However, another reason why students in Classroom A believe that they help each other more often could be due to the fact that they were seated closer together or more students in Classroom A than Classroom B were off-task. Hence, more students needed help because they were distracted and missed the teacher’s instructions.

A t-test showed that there was a significant difference (p<.01) between the perceived amount of group work in the two computer lab classrooms. Students in Classroom B more often worked in groups than students in Classroom A. Perhaps the ergonomic comfort and flexible workstations facilitated a more active learning environment.
A t-test showed that the frequency of students being distracted was significantly different (p<.01) in the two computer lab classrooms. Twenty percent of the students in Classroom A were often distracted compared to the four percent in Classroom B. This significant evidence also supports the higher frequency of off-task activities in Classroom When students get distracted or are not actively engaged, they surf the web or chat online (Carlson, 2002).


5.4 Conclusion

Findings in this exploratory study support the assumption that there are connections between the physical and social settings and their effect on student learning, teaching style, and the overall appraisal of the computer lab classroom. Architects, designers, and facility planners should first identify users’ preferred activities and aspirations for the social setting. Once the social setting is addressed, the physical setting can be designed to support and enhance the intended social activities. Therefore, this researcher argues that technology is only one environment shaper of school design (Spurgeon, 1998). This study has shown that there are significant transactions between both a physical setting that supports technology and the social setting or the classroom. The social setting and the physical setting characteristics are intertwined and can be mutually supporting of human intention. For example, comfortable chairs, good views, and adequate workspaces may encourage students to pay attention and participate in learning activities.

This study is intended to provide architects, designers, facility planners, and researchers with a beginning examination of the effects that different computer lab seating arrangements can have on the physical and social settings of the classroom. More effort is needed in the pre-design phase to provide the users with their needs in particular learning environments. One way to determine the users’ needs would be to setup simulations to see which designs work, or survey the users who spend the most time in the settings. Often, University design projects are given low budgets and therefore, do not have the money or time for the pre-design phase. However, this study persuades us to believe that the physical environment supports and has an effect on the social setting, which in the end effects student learning, teaching style, and student and teacher appraisal of the classroom.


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