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Running Head: A Transformed Classroom

Case Study of a Learning Environment: A Transformed Classroom Jan Herder Johnson State College EDU 6630 Graduate Seminar December 19, 2012

Introduction This paper analyzes a project-based, connected learning environment at the post secondary education level. The guiding question that it addresses is: what are the indicators of an equitable

and excellent learning environment? The hidden curriculum and cultural assumptions of the architecture of classroom space are considered. We discover that a diverse learning environment with ubiquitous access to wireless is critical for the wide range of learners needs. The importance of community emerges as a key element in a successful student centric environment. Technology is blended throughout the space, fulfilling a variety of functions and contributing to the equity of the learning environment. Finally, we see how the nature of connected learning changes the definition of knowledge. This change has profound implications for curriculum and the role of the teacher. Description The „classroom‟ I observed for this analysis is a diverse collection of spaces that are part of a Performing Arts Center. This learning environment is set in a small liberal arts college of 1400 students in a rural area of Northern Vermont. The class I observed is called Stagecraft, an introductory level class in the Associates of Arts in Technical Theater Program. The mission statement for the Technical Theater Program states that it, Provides a home to a Transformed Learning Community. Every member of the community is valued and integral to the functioning of the whole. The values of creativity, diversity, inclusiveness, empowerment, excellence and responsibility are coupled with exposure to a world of disciplines in the creative industries, and the opportunities to participate and evolve in profound ways (JSC, 2012). The building commands a location on the edge of a beautiful campus, overlooking a spectacular river valley. The feel or climate of the space is much like the local people: laid back, relaxed, tolerant and casual. But there are no outside windows and once you enter the space there are no reminders of nature. Empty and waiting, the large stage and the empty seats speak of

possibility and of past performances. As a performing arts center there are a variety of characters milling about. The sound of music and librettos sneak out of practice rooms and flow into the learning environment. There is a cold feel to the auditorium, which is almost forgotten when you experience the warmth of the acoustics. The space is at once vacuous, intimate and public, with each sound standing out. You can feel the intimacy in the small talk as groups of students chat, blending into the hum of the building. Exploring the layout of the learning environment, you immediately become aware that the classroom has been transformed into a diverse collection of spaces. The environment is multifaceted, fluid and porous. It contains break out spaces, nooks and nests where different types of learning activities and intimate groupings can occur. Bachelard (1964), in the Poetics of Space, reminds us that the origins of confidence are found in a nest. An important requirement for a learner being able to learn is to believe that you have the locus of control (Raymond, p.256), to believe it is within your power to learn. Having a variety of spaces available to feel grounded and secure within the learning environment is a good strategy to address the needs of diverse learners. Setting, Climate and Culture Walking in the door to the main space the chairs are arranged neatly in rows. Actually they are bolted into this configuration. Architecturally, the nucleus of the space is the „stage‟ and the „house‟. All of the remaining infrastructure of the building supports these 2 spaces. The stage is very large, roughly 40‟ by 88‟ and painted black. There is an elaborate fly system consisting of pipes, ropes, pulleys and curtains on the left. The house is large, the seats are upholstered blue. Cold cement floors greet the student. The classroom is more accurately described as a facility, in that it incorporates a number of different spaces in a coherent and purposeful building. A variety

of other spaces are included in the learning environment that I am including as part of the „classroom.‟ These include the fly rail area, the sound cove, the electrics room, the booth, the „crew‟ lounge, the video studio, midi lab and other areas that emerge such as the console nook.

The technical theater environment is embedded with technology. One crucial aspect of the space is its wireless infrastructure. Technology is experienced as a liberator (Elmasry, p.38), especially with mobile devices. Students used their smart phones ubiquitously throughout the class. There are mobile apps for accessing the lighting and sound consoles, Remote Control Focusing Units, Color swatches, light meters, Real Time Analyzers. Visualizations and simulations are accessed through CAD programs. The augmentation of reality and the facilitation of creativity is built into the devices used everyday by the students. The local town is in one of the most depressed and poorest parts of the state. According to CityData.com. (2012) the estimated median household income in this town in 2009 was $20,398. This is compared to the state average of $51,618. The median age is 22 compared to the State

average of 42. In terms of racial diversity, the tiny college mirrors the state average of 92.2% white. The numbers of men and women are just about equal in the town. This is not the case in the college. According to the demographics report in the Vermont State Colleges Web site (Vermont State Colleges, 2012), of all enrolled students, women account for 65%, with minorities 8%. Non Traditional students account for 39% of enrolled students. The average student at this institution will graduate with $23,000 in debt, more than the median household income in the town. In comparison, the class I observed had 70% men. In the other areas the class demographics are similar to the state. Out of the 10 regular students, one student is from a minority group and one is a non traditional student. The other student‟s ages range from 18 to 23 years old. Of the 2 regular Teaching Assistants, one is male and one female. Mr T., the professor, uses a reciprocal teaching strategy. At times additional upperclassmen came in to help mentor and give one on one attention to struggling students. I learned from Mr T., that 60% of the regular students in this class had some type of challenge to their learning processes.

Analysis: We have been asked to try and understand the guiding question by looking at the learning environment from the point of view of 4 themes: Learner Needs, Equitable Learning, Culture and Climate and Discrimination. In order to take a closer look at this environment, I observed a number of classes during a week in October. I coded each entry of my observations as „L‟ for Learner Needs, „E‟ for Equitable Learning, „C‟ for the Culture and Climate of the space, and „D‟ for any sense of Discrimination. I did not distinguish between positive or negative instances, but reserve those comments for analysis and reflection. Reviewing the observational data I recorded,

Climate and Culture was by far the dominant feature that emerged. Out of 230 distinct observations 31% were coded as Climate and Culture. The next largest category was Learner Needs at 27%. This makes sense as the learning environment is listed as 100% student run by the program literature (Vermont State Colleges, 2012). In my coding, 10% of the incidents related to Equity, while 6% were coded Discrimination. Learner Needs Safety and security are important elements in a supportive learning environment, without safety it is impossible to learn (dropoutprevention.org. 2012). I observed the results of examples of students feeling secure. The casual atmosphere, the side chats, food and drink (line 82), being able to come and go as one wishes, all spoke to this climate. One event I observed demonstrates the attention to individual learner needs that Mr T.‟s learning environment provides. A student fell asleep in the class (line 215). The other students supported the needs of the sleeping student and barely gave him another thought, going about their class work uninterrupted. Mr T. checked into the student‟s well being, but only suggested the student get some sleep and did not seem upset in any way. This event speaks to the culture of the class. The fact that it was accepted and okay with the Instructor, speaks to the security the student felt in letting their guard down in the class. Learners need to be safe to learn, to value themselves and each other. Safety and security played a prominent role in the environment I observed. Mr. T. uses a technique of „Call and Response‟ (line 154) to create a safe and collaborative environment. When the students work on the „deck,‟ the stage, they use a certain etiquette to discuss changes and work together. “Heads Up on the Stage! Pipe Coming In!” the fly person yells. “Thank you!” is the response. “First Electric is ready to go,” the electrician says. “First E going Out!” the fly person yells. The

response comes back from the crew, “Thank you!” Watching out for each other, the students work together communicating and observing procedures. This values everyone‟s safety prominently. This is a safe, supportive and collaborative culture. The observations regarding this kind of dialogue supports the equitable nature of the project-based, diverse learning environment. Culture The centerpiece of this learning environment is the stage. It is operated much like a ship, from which the rigging originally came. There are echos of the discipline required to sail a ship in the activities that occur backstage. This is necessary for safety and is part of the process of the degree learning outcomes. Mr T. provided options for students who did not like this formal, structured interchange. For example, K prefered to stay at the light board (Appendix A, Line 93). One of the most prominent observations of this learning environment is that the culture is learner centric. The instructor‟s role is facilitatory. The change in the role of the instructor into facilitator is in line with the changes occurring in constructivist, technology rich learning environments (Elmasry, 2007). A traditional classroom setting is teacher centric. (Lord, T., Travis, H., Magill, B. and King, L. 2010). The teacher has a controlling and often tyrannical power over the learning process and environment. This is reflected in the physical structure of the space, the types and alignment of furniture, the objects on the wall, the clock and the bell. Designers of educational experiences are starting to realize the problems with the form of the typical classroom, abandoning classrooms for environments that support play (Coren, 2012). Non verbal, hidden curriculums and messages, are all embedded in our physical structures. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” (Wolff. p.60). For the Marxist the hidden curriculum is in the form of the architecture (S-Cool, 2012). The rows of hallways and corridors, the rows of seats all enforce a message of

subordination for the purpose of making good workers and managers. Other kinds of hidden curriculums include competition, the message of „sit and listen‟ and fragmented, incoherent learning (S-Cool, 2012). Hidden messages, or non verbal types of communication in the physical environment, are considered more poignant and contain more truth than overt messages (Strange and Banning, 2001). These messages are embedded in the curriculum as well. The pedagogical methods of the classical classroom learning environment reinforces the hidden curriculum in the students relationship to production. These relationships are in a particular way associated with social status (Anyon, 1980). In the project-based learning environment these hidden messages have been overwritten. The students have become co creators alongside of the instructor. In her dissertation, Design Features for Project-Based Learning, Susan J. Wolff (2009), examines the architectural implications of a collaborative, project-based learning pedagogy in future learning environments. According to Wolff, it is important to have a system of relationships between people and spaces. This is what creates a unique physical environment for project-based pedagogy. The relationships of the adjacent spaces in this learning environment require interaction and communication. This is exactly how the different spaces in this learning environment supported each other. In this environment, students with a diversity of skills and interests collaborated together for a common project. The spaces the different departments inhabit all support the common goal of the production. It is the successful relationships of the different individuals and groups, and the spaces they inhabit, that enables a successful production and the consequent learning to occur. Equitable Learning A diverse collection of spaces and components provides options to access learning objectives. There still remain accessibility problems in the environment I observed. There is no

wheelchair access to the booth, crew lounge or video studio. Many activities needed mobily capable students. On the other hand, I observed numerous, easily made and simple solutions to accommodate various students and their individual needs. An example would be when N used his iPad to hear instructions he couldn‟t read. K is a student who is partially paralyzed, yet he is completely competent at the board. K‟s strengths are his musical abilities and his hearing. His physical challenges do not affect his operation of the console. R is sensitive and quiet. She needs a certain degree of peace to concentrate and finds a perfect job in the Electrics Room. There, in a sea of color media, matching numbers with colors and sizes, R is immersed in the visual spectrum. It was impressive to see the different types of learners engaged in the different components of the learning activity that suited their individual situations. Is it really an equitable learning environment? In terms of the majority of students who make it to this point in the educational system--I would say, yes, absolutely. But this cohort is not necessarily representative of growing demographics. The recent census shows we are growing more diverse (The United States of Education, 2012). A diverse learning environment of this kind seems to have the best options for being open, equitable and able to adapt to the growing diversity of future students. The creative use of the facility as a classroom ecosystem allows the class to be remarkably accessible. The collaborative and project-based components of the pedagogy provide multiple points of access to the lesson, the process and the final product. Easy and ubiquitous access to the outside world is essential for equitable learning. Recently the right to access the internet has been included as a human right by the United Nations (La Rue, 2011). In this learning environment it is essential that there is wireless access to the internet. Students are connected to the larger world through a number of wireless devices. Wireless is seen as the most transformative advancement in educational facilities since their

conception (Elmasry, p. 39). Wireless enables mobile learning, often called „ME” learning. It can deliver “just in time, just enough and just for me” learning (Peters, 2007). Unrestricted access to mobile devices and wireless broadband is an indicator of an equitable learning environment. With the ubiquity of wireless devices students have a constant connection to a sociocultural context through social media. Additionally, a variety of specialized types of computers are integrated throughout the environment. This is a blended model where technology is used naturally to augment learning. Mr. T. emphasizes the sharing of artifacts and reflections in Facebook (Appendix A, Line 196) as part of the documentation and ePortfolio process. Natural light is considered a critical necessity for a healthy learning environment in early childhood education (Friendly, M. & Beach, J., 2005). In this learning environment, however, a dark space shut off from natural light is an intentional design element of the space. Light deprivation and lack of sunlight has documented effects (Coppola et al., 2011). Light deprivation has the psychological effect of making you feel like you are loosing track of time. Losing track of time is one key indicator of a flow experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). This is an intentional pedagogical effect of the utilization of the space as a transformed classroom. The creative process is a specific learning strategy of Mr. T. Discrimination In my observations and the analysis of coded incidents, only 6% applied to discrimination in the learning environment. In a college environment you have to ask is there financial discrimination? And the answer is yes. Apart from tuition and room and board, a learning tool such as a smartphone is essential for mitigating unequal access and class discrimination. Many students cannot afford a smartphone, which discriminates against those with fewer resources. I did not include this as a factor in discrimination here. Mr. T. said that he considered the

smartphone their textbook. Textbooks were not required for this particular class, and students were expected to spend their money on the tools they needed for learning. I did observe one incident of a discriminatory nature. What stood out in the interchange surrounding the comments was the confidence and security the students felt discussing the topic. It was a „teachable‟ moment. In the diverse learning community I was observing, everyone commented and offered an opinion. There was a mutual respect for the diversity of positions and individuals present. The dynamic of this interaction speaks to the interconnectedness of an environment that supports learner needs, is culturally tolerant, provides equity for differing positions and can confront discrimination in the context of cooperation and collaboration. Looking at the incident that occurred concerning jokes (Appendix A, Line 185) reveals how the dynamic of discrimination played out in this learning environment. The students were comfortable about confronting each other in respectful dialogue. The stage etiquette language they use gives them a strong place to speak and to listen from respectfully. Mr T. pointed out that the students have to collaborate to achieve a common goal despite their differences. In the performing arts, students encounter a great deal of diversity regularly. This combination creates authentic experiences in a structured context to explore feelings and opinions on these deeper topics. In terms of discrimination against students with learning disabilities or students with different learning styles, this environment could be considered least restrictive for many types of students. Many of the restrictions inherent in a classical industrial model classroom are not present in this environment. In a diverse environment such as this one it is easier to provide options for diverse learners to collaborate and learn new things. More diversity can lead to less discrimination. A

diverse environment allows for more options for expression, engagement and representation (CAST, 2012). The limitations and bias of the instructor become secondary to the passions and needs of the learner in a connected classroom. Technology also brings into question the teaching styles, pedagogical methods and educational assumptions hidden in curriculum and architecture (Elmasry, p. 39). Traditional classrooms are not designed with access to technology in mind. Removing the structures of the teacher centric classroom has a tremendous liberating effect on students. From what I observed in the transformed classroom, equitable learning opportunities emerged among a diverse group of students. This was directly due to removing the rigid industrial era architectural confines, valuing individual students needs, and providing free and open access to the internet. Reflection This learning environment is a connected, project-based, learner centric model well suited for a Universal Design for Learning pedagogy. The traditional classroom is a vestige of the 15th Century and Industrial Age (Murphy, 2000). The collaborative project-based model that I observed appears to be a response to the old model. The complete ecosystem of spaces act together as a learning environment. This arrangement seems better suited for the changes in learning that are occurring now. In her research, Wolff (2002) goes on to describe the type of learning in a collaborative project-based environment where “exploration and discovery can occur with or without a faculty member and can happen individually, in small groups and teams, or within larger groups” (Wolff, p.7). This is an excellent description of the uses of the various adjoining spaces of the diverse learning environment that I observed. Both Wolff and Elmasry emphasizes that the

pedagogy they observed are coherent within the patterns of the physical space in which they took place (Elmasry p. 28). This description also calls our attention to the evolving role of the teacher from lecturer towards facilitator. Vygotsky (John-Steiner and Mahn, 1996) understood childhood development and the process of learning as an interdependence between the individual and their society. He used the idea of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) to describe the learning journey. Vygotsky defined the ZPD as, "...the distance between the actual developmental level as determined through independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers“ (Quoted from John-Steiner and Mahn, 1996). Vygotsky‟s ideas have been elaborated and they found new relevance with constructivist and connectivist theories of learning. For the connectivist, cognition is a function of the social environment in which it occurs (Siemens, 2006). The ZPD has been extended to include artifacts. „The More Knowledgeable Other‟ can include objects and systems such as books and websites and networks (John-Steiner and Mahn, 1996). In connectivism the ZPD becomes infinite because of the infinite number of connections and More Knowledgeable Others that can be made through the internet (Peña-López, 2012). Removing the subject object dichotomy in the learning and knowledge seeking process, Vygotsky‟s ZPD offers us deep insights into the possibilities of transforming our teaching. Mr T. has found ways to expand the ZPD, creating a dynamic access to more knowledgeable others through a transformation of the learning environment. The ZPD has been engaged for the students in this class through connecting spaces through authentic relationships and providing

ubiquitous unfettered access to information. Using reciprocal teaching learning relationships among the students, resources and experts outside of the classroom, breaks down the cubicles that we have come to associate with a classroom. We have seen that a transformed classroom of this type is a powerful way to increase equity for all learners. The step to excellence is in the paradigm shift away from a teacher centric classroom to a student centric, connected and transformed learning environment. The bias and prejudice of one teacher, and even one school, is mitigated and watered down in the diversity of the environment. According to the National Clearinghouse of Educational Facilities (NCEF, 2012), $25 billion is needed to renovate our Pre K - 12 schools for the 21st Century. This is an opportunity to change the dominant classroom paradigm and bring it into alignment with emerging literacies and the challenges of the 21st Century. Renovating our schools and transforming our classrooms should be reconsidered in light of emerging technologies, ecological design and collaborative, project-based, emergent learning. New architecture and philosophies of education offer us a way to address inequalities and limitations of access in a paradigm shift of educational infrastructure.

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