3 benefits to designing experimental classrooms at ASU

In the classrooms of modern universities, the pursuit of academic excellence takes various forms — from using the most advanced technology to fully immerse students in new learning environments to strategically designed seating arrangements and everything in between.

With a focus on student engagement, collaboration and inclusivity, active learning environments are gaining momentum around campuses at Arizona State University

Whether it’s a circle of chairs for group discussion, a U-shaped arrangement for a debate, or a set of tables and chairs for a team project, educators at ASU are embracing a new design model to empower student learning on campus — using flexible furniture arrangements to inspire active learning.

"This class is designed to encourage collaboration in group activities where students focus on honing their teaching skills,” said Katie Morris, an instructor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC). “Students have the freedom to move around and explore different working groups with a lot of ease — and the flexibility of the room lends itself nicely to some of the projects we've completed throughout the semester.”

Equipped with mobile chairs and desks, these spaces are designed by Enterprise Technology’s Learning Experience team to encourage collaboration, foster creativity and better meet a variety of individual comfort needs.

As ASU campuses change to meet the needs of our students and faculty, we explore how these experimental classroom options help facilitate inclusive, active learning environments and how we are using modern technology to drive change.

The Enterprise Technology News Room

1. Encouraging engagement and participation in class

The key to enhancing university education today lies in creating engaging and participatory classroom designs — whether in-person, virtual or synchronous. These active classrooms, with their open, diverse and flexible designs that incorporate both physical and digital infrastructure, have the potential to further enhance education by promoting collaborative learning experiences.

“This classroom has the perfect balance between flexibility and comfort which helps us focus in class,” said Natalie Marshall, a junior majoring in elementary education at MLFTC. “I like this design because it offers the flexibility we need to learn in different ways or our individual preferences.”

Moreover, flexible classroom designs encourage movement and various seating arrangements, which keep students alert and energized, preventing boredom and disengagement during longer class periods.  

2. Cultivating collaboration and communication

The second pillar of these reimagined classrooms centers on cultivating collaboration and communication among students. By integrating cooperative learning techniques, we encourage learners to work together harmoniously, melding their unique ideas and experiences to create a more enriching educational experience.

To further improve class communication and collaboration, classes may provide opportunities for students to engage with one another in various contexts. This can be achieved through group projects, class discussions and peer feedback sessions, among other strategies.

“We were able to move around and talk with other students easily as we moved from table to table during class activities,” said Casey Ostrowski, a junior majoring in special education at MLFTC. “The setup allowed us to work on different ideas with different groups without any clutter, allowing us to break down ideas together.”

Classrooms equipped with movable desks and chairs offer a dynamic environment that encourages this sort of engagement. By allowing students to rearrange their seating configurations with ease, they can quickly form groups for discussions, brainstorming sessions or team-based activities. This adaptability not only supports a variety of teaching styles but also fosters an engaging atmosphere that actively involves learners in the educational process.

3. Building inclusive classrooms

Recognizing that students have diverse social comfort levels, these learning spaces offer a range of seating arrangements and personal space options. From individual study areas to larger collaborative zones, these spaces allow students to choose the environment that best suits their learning preferences and social needs. 

“Flexible furniture arrangements go back to learner autonomy and self-competence,” said Megan Workmon, growth manager at Learning Experience. “It’s about addressing and supporting the psychological needs of learners and instructors throughout their journey of learning.”

By providing learners with choices, educators can accommodate various learning styles and encourage a greater sense of autonomy, engagement, and self-confidence among students.

Using chatbots to gather faculty feedback

ASU’s Learning Experience is harnessing the power of the AI-generated, ASU chatbot — named Sunny — to gather faculty feedback. Traditionally, Sunny has been a virtual guide for students, assisting them with questions ranging from advising appointments to parking locations and other various self-service support services. However, Learning Experience has reimagined Sunny’s role to bridge the gap between faculty and university resources. 

As faculty explore the possibilities of active learning classrooms, those who have opted into the chatbot’s assistance receive weekly reflections. This approach delves into various aspects of the learning experience, prompting faculty to consider topics such as furniture utilization, student engagement and potential challenges or requests. 

“If faculty need help with technology integration, or if they don't know who to contact for classroom support, they can use the chatbot for instant responses or solutions,” said Workmon. 

“My goal for these classrooms is to continue redesigning classrooms and provide faculty with options,” said Celia Coochwytewa, manager of collaborative learning for Learning Experience. “It’s an opportunity to listen to faculty and provide them with optional teaching arrangements that will work with their teaching style and strategies.”

Working in partnership the Office of the University Provost, ASU Enterprise Technology delivers comprehensive support for the technology behind ASU’s chatbots, catering to the diverse requirements of students and faculty. This ensures essential technology-enhanced tools that enable students and faculty to work, learn and thrive together.

By fostering engagement, collaboration and inclusivity, these innovative spaces elevate the experiences of faculty and students to create a more meaningful and effective learning journey. As we embrace new, progressive approaches to education, we can look forward to a future where the boundaries of explorative learning and discovery continue to expand. 

Written by Kevin Pirehpour; Photos by Mike Sanchez

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