North Central College - Naperville, IL

Test Subjects Enjoy the Experiment

Nine professors and their students are test subjects in a Learning Studio Research classroom that incorporates the latest thinking in teaching spaces and furniture design.

The project is a collaboration with Herman Miller and Widmer Interiors and allows the College to collect needed information.

“The research we gather from this project during winter and spring terms will help inform our discussions about teaching spaces in a new science center,” says Marti Bogart, associate dean for academic affairs. “This is a very unique space compared to the standard classrooms we have now.”

The larger-than-normal classroom in Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium houses a cart of laptop computers, tables, chairs and dividers with whiteboards that can be moved on a whim. Group modules, large circles, rows and squares are all possible during the same class period. The whiteboards can divide the room into small discussion spaces. Large erasable panels on the back wall are also used for problem-solving and sharing ideas.

“It’s easily adaptable to anything we’re doing,” says Carin Silkaitis, assistant professor of theatre. “We can set up theatre-style seating to show a film. Then, in about three minutes, we can switch to small groups and each has a whiteboard for discussion. Then, we come back together to look at everyone’s notes. I absolutely feel that my students participate more . . . there is no question.”

Courtney Doyle ’14 enjoys the changing arrangements in Silkaitis’ class. “I really like that we switch the desks around every day to experiment with what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “This makes the environment more interesting.”

The flat tables accommodate the learning tools needed for science students and placing them in groups benefits learning, reports Nancy Peterson, professor of chemistry, who co-teaches General Chemistry with Jeffrey Bjorklund, professor of chemistry. “Jeff and I can easily move between groups to give individual help. Students seem much more willing to ask questions when they are not having to ask in front of the class, so we are able to identify and correct mistakes before they fall behind.” 

The College is collecting data from students and professors before, during and after each term. The Learning Studio Research Program will continue in spring term 2011 with different courses and faculty.