Transforming the Instructional Landscape with ACE: What instructors and students have told us so far

By Nick Feinig, Senior Research Assistant (for the ACE-Transforming the Instructional Landscape project)

Photo of Nick

What do instructors and students have to say about instructional space at UofT? Quite a lot, it seems! Beginning in the fall of 2017, the Innovation Hub undertook an initial ethnographic study combining long form empathy interviews, participant observation in classrooms around campus, and data lifted from a social media campaign as part of ACE’s Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) project. Instructor feedback was also solicited through a dedicated portion of the TIL website.  Analysing this data, our research team determined that both students and instructors recognize the importance of thoughtfully managed space to the learning process, while the former in particular have powerful memories associated with certain campus spaces.

New ClassroomClassroom furnishings play a major role in facilitating discussion. Furniture arrangements that allow for eye contact, audibility, and mobility (to accommodate both accessibility needs and the parameters of a given assignment) were favoured by students. Rooms with shared tables, as opposed to individual desks, create “natural” discussion and project groups and eliminate some of the awkwardness of chatting with classmates. Rather than warily eyeing their belongings stowed along the wall or at the front of the class, adequate space around seating arrangements to store bags and coats lets students keep both eyes on the board.

Comfort is key. It is difficult to focus on lecture content when you’re seated in hot and stuffy or cold and draft-filled rooms. Many classrooms experience large swings in temperature as the seasons change. Rooms with spotty lighting can lull students to sleep, while the eye strain and glare from excessively bright bulbs can make following work on the blackboard a real chore. Natural lighting from windows-especially those offering a view of campus greenspace-creates an inviting and relaxing atmosphere.

Many students felt that working in the University of Toronto’s iconic buildings was a quintessential part of their university experience. They had fond memories that were tied, directly, to these spaces. While climate control can be an issue, students want to spend more time in and around these historic buildings.

New ClassroomOn the other side of the classroom, instructors face their own unique set of challenges. Instructors looking to engage students directly in discussion were frustrated when assigned to a room of fixed seats in rows facing the front. In contrast, those conducting more traditional lectures found students seated around circular tables craning their necks in order to face them. Rather than design rooms that cater to every need at once, matching instructors with the room that best suits their teaching style can yield immediate improvements.

As of September 2018, the scope of the Innovation Hub’s involvement in TIL has greatly expanded into a full partnership. Our research team is engaging students and instructors in long form interviews, observing classes in progress, and collecting feedback through TIL’s new website

Classroom design is an ongoing, collaborative process: we want you to be a part of it. ACE and the Innovation Hub are organizing a series of events where you can voice their opinions and share your experiences with our researchers. Watch this space for more information as TIL continues to expand!

**Interested in sharing your feedback?  join our event this week!

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