In the world of educational studies, where some theories have been hashed and rehashed for a century or more, the role Dr. Linda Scott-Webber plays is unique. For the majority of her career, she has studied how the educational environment itself can affect student learning. In other words, how your classroom – particularly the furniture – can increase student engagement and gains.
“Many studies have been done to suggest the more students are engaged in their learning processes, the higher the learning outcomes, the more motivated they are, and the higher the retention rates. Our studies comparing some of our "evidence-based intentional designs" have yielded significance in these factors compared to a standard row-by-column seating and transmission of knowledge pedagogy,” Dr. Webber said.
Her goal, as director of educational environments for Steelcase Education Solutions, is to provide teachers with solutions that enable them to move away from the traditional “lecture-test” model of learning into more interactive settings. It’s an uphill battle.
The traditional model is simply more cost-effective, but not more educationally efficacious. “Further studies have indicated that only 5% of knowledge is retained in a lecture and 85% when we begin to teach others. So why lecture?” she adds.
Her work started during her first teaching assignment at Virginia Tech. Her graduate students were working on ways to “map” behaviors relative to the spaces involved. The provost was embarking on a strategy to reassess their learning environments and enlisted the help of Dr. Scott-Webber and her students to make a more effective classroom.
“I immediately set about generating a research team composed of educational psychologists and designers to collaborate and find meaning in what these places could be, what behaviors we should be fostering. It has been my life's quest since-my ‘north’.”
But we know it will always be easier for school districts to spend money on the latest technology than on furniture.
“Technology has been the poster child of what is cool. Never mind that (a) the infrastructure and/or bandwidth won't support, and (b) never mind that millions of dollars are spent on technologies that NEVER get used because educators are not taught how to use it, don't have any idea how using it will fit into their curriculum, and might just get too frustrated to even try. NO. Not the way to plan. Technology and space are both "tools" and should be used as "scaffolding" supporting pedagogy.”
She also wanted to make it a point that an expensive classroom makeover is not always needed to improve your environment. Sometimes it just takes some creativity and the willingness to buck the status quo.
“Ask students to move things around. Allow them to go to the walls. Pass the chalk/marker to the students. Develop a blended learning model where the lecture is online and the doing is in the classroom, or some other place to meet and work together. Find out what makes your students' tick and be creative.”
To find out more about Dr. Scott-Webber’s insights into classroom environments, check out this informative report from Steelcase: “Active Learning Spaces: Insights, applications & solutions”.