From Innovation to Inspiration: WSB’s New Collaborative Learning Classrooms
Picture a typical college lecture hall—rows of stadium seating for students and a chalkboard in the front for the instructor to use when delivering a lecture. Now look inside the newly remodeled collaborative learning classrooms (CLC) in Grainger Hall at the Wisconsin School of Business. There’s nothing typical about this state-of-the-art learning environment.
Rows of chairs and computers have been replaced by moveable chairs and tables at which teams of students can work together while faculty supervise and facilitate. Large monitors and laptops help students work together more efficiently. During discussions, the instructor weaves throughout the room, stopping at tables to review projects and offer feedback.
“It’s a different style than we’re used to, but easier to interact in, which is very appealing,” says Allison Amadon (BBA ’17), who took a business analytics class in the CLC in Fall 2015.
Change for the better
The new collaborative learning classrooms opened in August 2015, and demand for the classrooms doubled in six months—with faculty members wanting to return and others wanting to teach in the space for the first time.
“Faculty and students are aware they’re pushing themselves, and they’re outside their comfort zone,” says Suzanne Dove, assistant dean for academic innovations at the Wisconsin School of Business. “It’s great that students are seeing how this space pushes boundaries and creates better learning for them.”
—Allison Amadon (BBA ’17)
Amadon says she took to it right away and felt other students did, too.
“I learned a lot from little questions or comments people at my table would ask as we worked on problems,” she says, adding that it was also easy to ask for help from the instructor. “I would love to take more classes this way.”
That’s a reaction that most students have, according to Mark Connolly, a researcher from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, who is analyzing quantitative and qualitative data from students and faculty to measure the rooms’ impact on student learning.
“The collaborative classrooms are off to a strong start,” he says. “The students and instructors are confident that the space is improving their learning experiences.”
Connolly is gathering data for a report on the effectiveness of the space. After surveying students and faculty, instructors responded positively, and 80 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that the classrooms engaged them in the learning process—inspiring them to learn from their peers, encouraging active participation, tackling real-life business problems in teams, deepening understanding of course content, and helping develop professional skills to use beyond the course.
Innovation as a long-term plan
The idea for the CLC came in 2013, when the School was launching its focus on educational innovation, and enrollment in the Wisconsin BBA Program was set to increase. Discussions with architects about increasing capacity and flexibility began. Space renovations started in May 2015, made possible by investments of the Wisconsin School of Business Innovation Fund, a club of investors who provide seed money to test and scale educational innovations. Using research and best practices, two ordinary computer classrooms were transformed into an innovative learning environment.
Courses that used the space in Fall 2015 ranged from an entire course to single exams or discussion sections. Nearly every faculty member and instructor who used the space wanted to book it again.
“The majority of instructors felt that the rooms enhanced the student learning experience,” says Chris Dakes, the School’s director of educational innovations and learning design. “These are experienced teachers, but not in this setting. With the students and faculty having no experience in the new classrooms, we were pleasantly surprised by the universal positive feedback and how quickly they embraced the new classroom design.”
Peter Lukszys, a senior lecturer in WSB’s Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management, used the CLC in a logistics management class. The space worked well, Lukszys says, to play a business simulation game with more than 40 MBA and graduate students.
“The collaborative learning space was ideal for team-based, simulation learning experiences,” he says. “There was lots of discussion among team members.”
—Qing Liu, Associate Professor of Marketing
Adapting to innovation
Halfway through the first semester that the classrooms were in use, Dakes and Paul Oliphant, director of academic technology and web at the WSB, gathered feedback from faculty members who were using the rooms.
“One of the things they said was that they didn’t know where to stand to lecture,” Dakes says. “And that’s exactly the point. It’s not a lecture space—the space pushes them to engage with their students rather than present to them.”
Instead, it’s a space for other kinds of learning. Qing Liu, associate professor of marketing, taught two marketing analytics courses in the CLC, which created an optimal environment for interactive learning of data analysis software.
“The group setting helps collaboration among students, in comparison to a traditional classroom, which is better for lecturing,” she says. “For example, using the monitors, the students can easily see what analysis methods are appropriate and easily explore together what works and what does not work.”
A roadmap for the evolution of learning
The success of the rooms presents an opportunity to learn from the space in ways that go beyond construction or rearranging chairs and tables. Maybe it’s in the way lectures are incorporated or how group projects can enhance student participation.
“Not every classroom in Grainger Hall is going to become one of these active learning spaces, nor should it,” Dove says. “But what are some of the techniques or interventions that faculty are discovering in this new room that we can translate to other classrooms? What can we use in a traditional space that was learned in an active learning space?”
The rooms were booked to capacity for the Spring 2016 semester, filled with classes that are fully or partially taught there.
“Introducing one of these active learning classrooms is not guaranteed to go smoothly,” Connolly says. “I think this has been exceptional in how it’s taken off. Our design managed to satisfy both the instructors’ needs and the students’ needs. They both feel it’s a positive place to participate in the learning experience together.”