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

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


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


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.

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

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