Improving student engagement in the classroom

School of Business Administration teams up with designer

Classrooms at Portland State often look the same.

Some are older and some are newer. Some have flat ground and others have several tiers. There are tables, chairs and many tiny desks.

School of Business Administration teams up with designer

Classrooms at Portland State often look the same.

Some are older and some are newer. Some have flat ground and others have several tiers. There are tables, chairs and many tiny desks.

But one classroom stands out.

This spring, room 390 in the School of Business Administration building became known as the “learning studio.” Currently, the business strategy senior capstone is the course that mainly
occupies it.

It’s there as a learning laboratory—a means to study how students’ surrounding environment can affect their engagement.

Jill Mosteller, assistant professor in the school of business, is part of the group that set up the learning studio with the help of Herman Miller, an upscale furniture company that provided furniture for the room.

“We’re able to look at what kind of classrooms are conducive to effective teaching and, more importantly, what classroom designs may be more effective to student learning outcomes,”
Mosteller said.

This is achieved by using furniture that allows flexibility so that the design of the room and the way students and instructors interact can be easily changed.

“It allows us to explore how the teacher and student dynamics within the classroom can be enhanced through the change of the physical aspects in the classroom itself,” Mosteller said.

At first glance, the learning studio looks like a normal lecture room with desks and chairs set up in lines. But what makes this furniture special is that it is all on wheels and extremely light, allowing it to be moved around easily and quickly. This allows flexibility in the classroom and encourages engagement by not making students sit in one place the whole class.

“It has at least allowed us a lot more flexibility in our ability to interact in a way that is, I think, a lot more conducive to the way that we’re dealing with clients,” said Bill Jones, adjunct professor in the school of business, who teaches the business capstone.

“If we have a lot of clients, or a lot of groups, we’ve got the ability to change the shape of the room so those groups can talk to each other without having to move, or shimmy, around the furniture,” Jones added.

Aside from the furniture, the learning studio has another very big difference. Since the room has no windows, there is room for a large white board on each wall.

Also, instead of one big projector in the middle of the room, each of the four walls has its own close-range projector, which eliminates shadows on walls when one stands in front of the projector light.

Each projector can be set up differently, or they can all be used in the same presentation. The class can split off into four separate groups, and the teacher can walk around to help each group individually without interrupting the entire class.

Anthony Pepe, a marketing manager at Herman Miller, explained that they design and manufacture furniture for offices, schools and hospitals. Over the past three years, Herman Miller has worked with universities around the world on similar projects.

With the knowledge they are able to gather from this research, they will refine old designs and create new ideas.

“The data we collect is going to help validate with other universities that are feeling like maybe they want to change their learning processes,” Pepe said. “The data we have now shows there’s real measurable difference in the outcome of the learning.”

Jones and colleague Melissa Appleyard, another professor in the school of business, both agree that the flexibility this classroom allows has helped in many ways. Having the ability to easily and quickly break into groups helps students feel involved.

Sean Richards, a senior accounting major who is finishing his last term with the business capstone, said that his favorite part of the class is the multiple projectors.

“We give a presentation almost weekly. And since the projector goes forward and backward we can look at the back wall and know what’s being presented so we can keep and maintain eye contact while still looking at the PowerPoint slides,” Richards said.

Another advantage of white boards on all four walls is that professors do not have to erase their writing to make room for more lecture notes. This way students have more time to take notes and to go back and read what was discussed at the beginning of class.

Appleyard notes that many groups outside of the business department assisted with audio-visual, facilities, and technology needed for the project to be completed.

“It’s just a really nice collaborative effort to pull off in a short amount of time,” she said.