The Classroom Experience

Rhonda Blackburn, Associate Provost at the University of Texas at Dallas, gave an interesting discussion about improving the classroom experience.  At her university, she facilitated a project where they took a traditional classroom and put new furniture and moving whiteboards into it, making it very collaborative and more engaging for students.

They found that while a few immediately thought the changes were wonderful, the majority of faculty found the changes chaotic and unstructured.  It wasn’t until the faculty were shown how to use the furniture to their benefit that they began to see how it could benefit both faculty and students.  

For example, one professor found that in a row-based room, students who sat in front tended to participate more while those in the back did not.  In the more flexible room, the teacher could easily make the back of the room the front.  That enabled the instructor to challenge and engage those students.

The key to success was the attitude of the faculty.  The students tended to pick up on and follow the attitude of the professor in the classroom.

She then pointed out that when you design a class in blackboard, it’s important to make it similarly open, collaborative, and welcoming to students.

Like furniture in a room, we make a class more collaborative by the use of groups, discussion boards, and a variety of social communication options.  When furniture was arranged in pods versus rows, teams could be put in those pods so they could work together or discuss ideas together.

She concluded by stating that the two most significant essentials to a successful blackboard course is that (1) it has a clear structure so that students can find what they need, and (2) it is collaborative so that students can get help and communicate with the instructor and other students.

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