Classroom Design

Innovative Learning Spaces Affect Student Attitudes at Ball State

A three-year experiment at Ball State University in Muncie, IN, suggests that innovative classroom spaces can create a positive attitude change in students, but the verdict seems to still be out on whether it affects academic performance.

With its Learning Space Initiative, Ball State spent $90,000 to redesign two 24-seat classrooms. One, called the media:scape classroom, has four tables each seating six students. Each table has a flat screen that can be linked to the students' mobile devices. The second room, the Node Classroom, has "Node" chairs that are really combination chair-desks that can be wheeled around the room to create whatever kind of configuration teachers or students want.

Both rooms have interactive whiteboards and other kinds of technology.

Over the last three years, 68 faculty members have cycled through the two rooms, teaching 3,500 students while experimenting with different teaching methods.

While some students taking courses in the experimental classrooms that emphasized active learning had better outcomes than in more traditional settings, others showed negligible improvement. The greatest success was found among students in a basic math class. In that case, research found students who were considered at risk of failing were nearly three times more likely to get a passing grade in a pilot study.

However, according to Jim Jones, Ball State's director of research and academic effectiveness, students who attended classes in the redesigned room enjoyed the experience and were found to be more likely to be engaged in the class.

Despite the so-far ambivalent findings of the experiment, Ball State will expand its Learning Space Initiative. In time for classes next fall, the university will spend $230,000 to redesign a 40-seat and a 72-seat classroom to continue its research on innovative learning methods.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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