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Published October 20, 2017 | Multidisciplinary

Year One Update on the Steelcase Room Implementation at LaSalle College

In March 2017, I reported on LaSalle College’s implementation of a Steelcase Active Learning Classroom. Over the summer, the pedagogical support team at the College completed its first annual report on the 2-year Steelcase experimentation and research project. The administration of the college wished to share some of its insights and findings with the Profweb readership, and what follows are some of the highlights of the report.

Views of LaSalle College’s Steelcase Active learning classroom.

The Research

The Steelcase Active Learning Center Grant received by LaSalle College included a requirement to participate in a 2-year program to assess and research the impact of the space on student motivation and achievement. The research contained both quantitative and qualitative aspects.

Winning [the Steelcase Education Grant] was a wonderful occasion to satisfy our curiosity with a structured research project, engage more teachers in active learning [...] and favour collaboration between teachers. Excerpt of the Active Learning Center Grant - Steelcase Education Annual Report 2016-2017

Steelcase provided a diagnostic framework for the project with its Steelcase Post-Occupancy Measurement Tools, in the form of 2 online surveys designed to evaluate the perceived impact of a traditional classroom versus an active learning environment in relation to a number of variables.

In order to collect information for their research, the pedagogical support team:

  • administered this series of surveys
  • conducted focus groups with teachers and students
  • reviewed postings in a forum that was put in place for teachers to share their observations throughout the year

All in all, 14 teachers used the Steelcase room for 2 semesters, with close to 18 different courses being taught in the space.

LaSalle College also wanted to evaluate the impact of the classroom on student success and attendance. For this, the pedagogical support team compared data for courses run in the Steelcase room versus other sections with the same teacher that were using a traditional classroom.

Key Findings

The pedagogical team at LaSalle College advanced multiple areas of discovery and surprises in their report:

  • A shift of teaching approach by teachers
  • A shift in teachers’ approach to summative evaluations
  • Development of students’ communication skills
  • Increased creativity in the classroom
  • Enhanced motivation of students to perform work
  • Increased sense of belonging in the classroom
  • Increased student attendance

Shifting teaching and the summative evaluation approach

The active learning room changes the educational paradigm in the classroom, shifting the focus from the teacher to the students. This shift incited teachers to reevaluate their role within the context of the classroom, which can result in having to invest more time up-front for class preparation. Teachers found themselves spending more time on coaching and facilitating within the space, reducing the focus on lecturing.

During the first year, one of the teachers was so motivated that she challenged herself to never use the same classroom configuration twice! The station rotation configuration which sets up multiple stations for students to visit was just one of the configurations tested in the active learning space by teachers. Students were sometimes called upon to suggest how to set up the room.

The active learning space resulted in teachers rethinking their approach to summative evaluations. The proximity of students and the natural bond they form within the space can increase concern for intellectual honesty, whether it be ensuring that students do not plagiarise or copy from each other during formal evaluations. However, the teachers found that the class allows you to easily keep tabs on what all of the students are doing since the open space allows the teacher to circulate freely.

The teachers’ experience was globally positive:

Their use of innovative teaching methods, of classroom reconfiguration and of communication among the students increased in the Steelcase classroom. Despite a few challenges regarding classroom management, teachers all agree that their experience as a teacher was enriched and that the tools and features facilitated the learning activities [...] Excerpt of the Active Learning Center Grant - Steelcase Education Annual Report 2016-2017

Notable benefits for students

The results of this research lead us to conclude the following regarding the student’s experience. Not only were they more motivated and engaged, they also developed their ability to communicate with classmates and the teacher as well as contribute to a team. Excerpt of the Active Learning Center Grant - Steelcase Education Annual Report 2016-2017

Developing the whole student

The active learning room seemed to have a positive multi-faceted impact on students. With the shift from a lecture format to a student-centred approach, teachers were surprised to see students start to take more ownership for their learning. While there was no conclusive evidence that the room had an impact on success rates and perseverance, there is evidence to show that the room helped teachers to develop ‘the whole student’ over the semester.

Communication, Collaboration and Creativity

With greater responsibility for their own learning, students were required to develop their communication skills throughout the semester.

  • Shyer students seem to come into their own over the semester and seemed less timid in group situations. The more relaxed and informal atmosphere in the classroom made it less intimidating.
  • Multiple teachers tried having their students do oral presentations in the middle of the room, rather than at the front, which seemed to be a less confrontational approach.
  • The level of confidence of the students seemed to improve as they took the floor and spoke in front of their peers. This is not a trivial benefit since more and more employers in the market are placing increased emphasis on recruiting candidates that can demonstrate this ability.

A concept map representing responses to student feedback surveys (courtesy LaSalle College).

With many opportunities for group collaboration, there was less of an emphasis on competition for grades, and more emphasis placed on students helping each other. Interestingly, the room also seemed to facilitate the integration of international students, helping them to reduce their shyness and break their sense of isolation.

The learning space also seemed to have an impact on the creativity of students, since students have a variety of tools at their disposal and the ability to rearrange the classroom to their needs. This creates a more liberal atmosphere in class. A number of teachers noted that students arrived in the Steelcase room and immediately got to work, which shows that the space has an impact on overall motivation.

All of these factors contributed to a heightened sense of belonging for the students:

The environment in the Steelcase room is definitely more relaxing and potentially suitable for learning. The tools available helped to make it easier for all participants to dialogue and communicate their understandings and opinions. Students[...] are willing to take more risks. All of these make learning more plausible[…]. It encourages a team learning strategy and promotes students being more active in their learning.

A final benefit that should not be passed over is the impact of the active learning classroom on attendance. According to the report:

The teachers shared with us the impression that students show more attendance in the Steelcase classroom than the traditional classroom, especially after breaks. There were fewer absences, if any after break time.

Looking Forward and Looking Back

The Active Learning Committee at LaSalle College was established in 2013 with a three-fold mission:

  1. Increase student motivation through learning activities that promote independent learning and higher thinking skills.
  2. Provide opportunity for students to take a hands-on approach to learning and encourage them to take risks.
  3. Encourage students to think about their learning process (metacognition).

On many levels, the 2016-2017 annual report attests to the fact that the first-year experimentation has made important gains towards fulfilling the committee’s mission.

The evolution of active learning spaces at LaSalle College from 2013 to 2017. The LaSalle College Collaboration room (left) and the Steelcase room (right)

Moving forward, the college has decided to encourage new teachers to get involved with the Active Learning Classroom by changing its prior policy of giving priority access to the Steelcase room to seasoned teachers who have already used active learning classrooms at the college. This decision was taken to pique the curiosity of teachers with regards to active learning pedagogy, and to respond to an increasing demand for use of the room. The administration at LaSalle College has responded by implementing 4 additional Steelcase installations in their classrooms this fall.

With more access to the Steelcase rooms, the Active Learning Committee is hoping to increase its membership and foster a Community of Practice where new ideas are shared and faculty are encouraged to support each other while advancing the pedagogy. Their activity, combined with the 2-hour Steelcase classroom initiation training, will help to reduce the intimidation factor for teachers that want to try an active learning approach for the first time.

As part of their efforts to facilitate the sharing of activities and best practices, the pedagogical support team will also be developing a new catalogue for teachers to document their approaches. According to Pedagogical support coordinator Jolyanne Leduc, “this will be a digital tool that will be promoted within the context of an upcoming pedagogical day and within departmental teams once it becomes available.”

Congratulations to the LaSalle College community, and more specifically to the Teachers and Pedagogical support team for completing the first year of this important initiative!

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