Prototype classroom focuses on student engagement

By Richard H. Miller, Academic Outreach and Innovation

Visa-Thach-in-Bryan-404PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University’s future Digital Classroom Building is a deep hole in a muddy field. But the future is already here, albeit in a more traditional building, 107-year-old Bryan Hall.

This semester, Bryan 404 became a prototype classroom for the new building and is being used for 11 courses. The room holds nine tables, each with a 42-inch monitor, keyboard and six bright red chairs.

Faculty can send content, such as a Blackboard Learn team space, to the monitors or share a single monitor with the entire class. Students can stream to the monitor from their smartphones.

Visa Thach, left, in class in Bryan 404. (Photo by Richard H. Miller)

Phone battery dying? There’s a charging station at the center of the room.

WSU instructor Owen Williams said the individual screens have increased engagement and enthusiasm in his English 101 course.

“It shrinks the classroom,” he said. “No longer are they six students in a huge class of 50. They are six people around a table that seats only six, working with their own technology for their own set goal.”

The four-story Digital Classroom Building is scheduled to open in fall 2017. It will include a circular learning hall, faculty innovation studio, media studio, event space and two classrooms similar to Bryan 404.

The final design of those classrooms may depend on survey results from those using Bryan 404, said Kripa Sundararajan, a graduate assistant at WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation.

“The goal is to understand how instructors and learners perceive and use the room and its amenities,” she said, “as well as to determine what training or support we should offer.”

Associate professor Jeffery Peterson said the layout of Bryan 404 makes it easier for his Communication and Society 421 students to stand up, walk around and divide into groups.

“I appreciate not having those amphitheater seats where you can’t move around,” he said. “I do a lot of group work, and the new layout is great for that.”

The individual monitors also help keep students on task, he said: “They’re expected to look at the common screen, not their personal screen.”

“When you’re in a regular classroom, it’s much harder to collaborate – you’re facing forward,” said Visa Thach, a student in Peterson’s class. “With this, you’re forced to engage and have discussions instead of just sitting in your own comfort zone.”