67: UMD’s Innovative Classroom Spaces Are Engaging Students With Technology, Movable Furniture, & Enhanced Student Collaboration w/ Scott Roberts

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

As universities are striving to increase student collaboration, Dr. Scott Roberts is succeeding.

He started at the beginning. In the classroom.

He believes traditional learning spaces were designed with the teacher in mind, so they could speak at students. Collaboration was never a component of the traditional lecture hall setup.

That’s all changing at The University of Maryland.

Dr. Roberts is the director of the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, where he oversees a campus-wide effort to support and inspire effective and engaging learning spaces.

He received his Ph.D at UMD in Social Psychology, before working for the federal government doing psychology research. He came back to UMD as the director of undergraduate studies in psychology, and then later transferred his passion to advance education to the entire campus.

He joined us on this episode of the Enrollment Growth University to share how his team is utilizing innovation in learning spaces with movable furniture, advanced technology, and creativity to inspire deeper collaboration among students.

Those rooms were never conceived to support any other activity than students sitting in chairs facing forward, taking notes while someone talked at them. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Evu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Dr Scott Roberts, director of instructional excellence and Innovation at the University of Maryland's teaching and learning transformation center. Scott, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Really excited to talk with you today about how to design a campus's physical and learning...

...spaces for the future of higher education. Before we dig too deep into that, Scott, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both the University of Maryland and your role there? Sure so. As the director of our teaching and learning transformation center, I see the campus wide effort to support and inspire effective, engaging, fishing and equitable teaching innovations among our faculty, staff and Graduate Student Teaching Assistants and instructors. I actually got my PhD here at the University of Maryland and social psychology and spent two years working for the federal government as a research psychologist before I came back as the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology and after several years they're trying to advance education and active learning in the department. I had this great opportunity to come and and do that campus wide. Awesome, Scott. This is such an interesting topic that I'm excited to dig into. Let's start off by talking about how higherd has traditionally thought about the design of its learning spaces. Well,...

I think that the learning spaces were designed with a presumption about what teaching involved, which was essentially just lecture, and those rooms were never conceived to support any other activity than students sitting in chairs facing forward, taking notes while someone talked at them. And it really speaks to the the fact that the focus was one hundred percent on the teacher and what the teacher was doing and there was really never any thought for what the students were doing other than sitting in a bolted chair. Totally, totally. And now, Scott, let's talk about your new classroom layouts, the you're designing a UMD and and some of the benefits of these round, owned pod style and then modern media classrooms. Sure. So, we have a number of different kinds of classrooms that together we're sort of calling our turf classrooms. With Sandford teach, engage, respond and participate, and these rooms are all designed with student engagement and collaboration in...

...mind. We have tiered collaborative rooms where, if you were to walk in, it might look like a pretty traditional lecture hall, but what's unique about it is that the room is situated into tears with two rows and tables on each row, and the front row can turn one hundred eighty degrees to face the row behind them, so you can seemlessly move from forward facing presentation mode to student to student facing small group mode. We have rooms that have desks on wheels where they can easily reconfigure themselves. We have what we call our six round rooms, where students are seated at round tables six apiece, and we have media share rooms which are structured around peninsulas of six students with a computer screen and keyboard and mouse that they can share to work on something collaboratively. Sky Love The multipurpose flexibility of some of these design innovations. When a student slips into the back of a traditional big lecture hall today, they may...

...be safe to assume they won't have to interact at all that day with anyone. They may be a will to be a purely passive learner. What kind of expectations can these new classroom layouts create in terms of a student's role as an active participant in the course and what that may cause them to have to prepare for before they come to class? Yeah, I can tell you from experience teaching in the the six round rooms that, first and foremost, when you walk in, it just immediately feels different. Yeah, and and so that alone, I think, can can sort of rattle the expectation of what's about to happen, because certainly students can walk into what what is a bolted lecture room and still find that their instructor does a lot to engage them with each other. And students are pretty creative. They'll climb on top of chairs, that they have to to turn around and and speak to somebody, and so it's not physically comfortable, but it's possible here. Though. When you walk into a room like this, I think you sort of immediately know that...

...this is not going to be that traditional passive lecture experience. And what I've been, I think, particularly surprised by is how receptive the students have been to this different format. And in fact I've surveyed my students midway through both in my intro to psychology course and and my course in the psychology of evil, and overwhelmingly the students indicated they strongly preferred the round table format. And when I ask them as a follow up question why, the number one answer had to do with the structure, sure of the table and the room forcing them to participate with each other, and I thought it was such an interesting sort of commentary on the fact that I think most students buy into the idea that they benefit from that engagement and they actually enjoy it. The problem is that it can be so socially awkward and physically awkward that's very challenging for them to really embrace. But when you're sitting there at a table looking at someone that's sitting across the table. You're all making eye contact and you have this...

...sort of psychological sense of a team, that you're part of this group and you're defined from all of the other groups in the room. I think it really fosters that sense of small community and support and any expectation that you're going to be talking to each other during this class meeting. Sky, you mentioned some of the feedback you receive from your student surveys so far. What kind of feedback to have you received from your faculty so far regarding these new learning spaces? Yeah, I mean overwhelmingly. I think the the faculty that are teaching in these kinds of new rooms are responding remarkably positively. I think that, that said, it is a little bit scary to walk into a room, especially these six round rooms that are very different and and even for those that have been doing everything they can to actively engage their students in traditional rooms, you really have to double down on that in a space that is contraindicated for for lecture, and so I think that as faculty try to sort of...

...adapt their thinking to this space, they have a lot of questions about how do I leverage the technology, how do I leverage the space and how do I prepare my students for what they're going to be doing when they get to this classroom? And so I think that, you know, there's sometimes a little bit of apprehension when you're when you're doing something that feels that different, but I think that the feedback that we've been hearing from those that we have met with and we've done orientations with before their class in the rooms, we give them a chance to press all the buttons and and talk through some of these big ideas and and the feedback we're getting from them is is overwhelmingly positive. And we've done some studies of the actual use of these classrooms and of course it varies, but the way that we look at it from the Teaching Center perspective, if the room can facilitate, you know, thinking about or doing even just one small thing a little bit differently to engage students, we're making tremendous progress and shifting the thinking about classroom meetings from what the teacher does...

...to what the students doing. Today, so far we've been talking about kind of the future of the high read learning space from a physical standpoint, given higher eds trend and transition toward online education and more and more students choosing the flexibility of online education. From a macro standpoint, how else is you MD thinking about the future of physical spaces and what will be required from an infrastructure standpoint for the future high red campus? That's a great question and obviously a moving target, but I think that we certainly see the growth in and not just online but also in blended and in how we can leverage those kinds of tools, that kind of flexibility to give students the opportunity to engage with content, engage with course work, engaged within assessment before they come to a physical space. And so while I certainly believe that the online education space will continue to grow, we see tremendous value in the in person experience as well,...

...and there are some courses that I think can be exceptionally well designed to operate in a fully online space and there are other courses that I think benefit a lot from the opportunity to come together in person. And and so I think we'll see a continue push towards shifting the way in which these rooms are designed to facilitate the kinds of small group work that we know from the evidence really matters in terms of learning outcomes and simultaneously and increase in leveraging the kinds of online tools that help prepare students with the background knowledge that they previously would have relied on a lecture for, so that they're coming to class fully prepared to actually engage in practice and do the things that are going to help them in the long run. Scott's such good stuff. Any final next steps? Advice for other institutions who are looking to build a campus infrastructure and learning environments with the future in mind? Sure, I would say three things. The first...

...is probably the most obvious, which is you've got to visit lots of campuses. You've got to talk to a lot of people that have been involved in the planning and the implementation and what they've learned the easy way and the hard way and and how they're using those rooms and what contextual variables are different. But the more that you can really see some of these new innovative spaces, I will really help you kind of think through how that fits into your vision for what that would look like on your campus. The second piece, I think, is to think about consistency, because it's tempting when you create a new classroom space to put the newest greatest things into it, but that can be a real challenge point for faculty who are transitioning between classrooms and if you teach three different classes and three different rooms and one day and each room is configured differently in terms of the technology and and how to turn on the lights and and how to, you know, fire up the projector, then that can create some real challenges for them in just operating the space. And so...

...to try to think about classroom design in updating in a way that you can do consistently across those spaces. And you know, obviously the the third piece is training, is to make sure that you are giving faculty and instructors the opportunities to spend time in those rooms to practice doing the things that the rooms are designed to facilitate and to make sure that you're bringing in people that have actual experience in those spaces, especially the ones like the six round rooms, that are just qualitatively different experiences to teach in. It helps a lot when you can give faculty some concrete examples about how you're designing courses to take advantage of those spaces and that that starts from the syllabus. It starts with the pre work and with the design and timing of those classroom activities and and that can be a big lift for somebody who hasn't really had the opportunity to do that in another space. And perhaps one other thing that I would throw in...

...is to be mindful of the risk of communicating that certain rooms are designed for active learning and others are not. Yeah, because while it's true that the physical space facilitates the activity that we want to see, there's always a will and a way to do that. And and we just don't want faculty to think that they're either given an active learning room and therefore that's the expectation, or they have a traditional room, in which case we're not concerned about it. So really, how helping to use the redesign of learning spaces as a catalyst for conversations about teaching and learning more broadly ensures that we can continue to advance active learning and student learning outcomes across the board, in whatever room we find ourself teaching and learning in. Sky You mentioned this idea of visiting other campuses and seeing what they're doing and innovating within their learning spaces. If folks want to go on a little campus tour other than UMD. Are there any examples of learning spaces that have particularly inspired you or you think that are on...

...the, you know, bleeding edge of best practice pedagogy? Sure there are a number of campuses that have done some remarkably innovative things. I one that stands out in my mind that I had the opportunity to our myself was at the University of Minnesota and and they were one of the early universities to really create an entire building with these kinds of classrooms and and they have also been a center for doing some of the research on how they're actually being utilized, what instructors think, what students think and how that's associated with student learning. And so if you're how the opportunity to to check that out, I would encourage you to do it and and I'm sure there are others on our campus who had the opportunity in the design phase that would be happy to offer some other recommendations. You're welcome to reach out to me directly. are teaching and learning transformation centers. Email is TLTC at Umbdet you and we'd love to host you for a visit. It's got. If folks want to take you up...

...on that offer. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? Sure best way is probably by email at TLTC at umd Dot Edu, and you can certainly follow us on social media. We're on facebook, twitter and instagram. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today, Scott, my pleasure. Thank you. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprize wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download it today for free at Helix educationcoms playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that...

...you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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