Research in Wallenberg Hall

High Performance Learning Spaces Part 3

January 2007

3.b Supporting Segmented and Distributed Work

Traditional lecture classes have an extremely simple and stable structure of work and attention: a single person, almost always the teacher, has the “floor” and manages all aspects of interaction, information display, scheduling, etc.; and some number of students, ranging from a handful to hundreds, work individually in attending to the teacher. Equipping a classroom to support this structure of work is straightforward, since the locations and equipment requirements of each participant can be reliably predicted in advance.

Project-based classes, which drove the design of the classrooms in Wallenberg Hall, have a much more complex structure of roles and interactions. Project-based classes typically involve subgroups of students working together independently of other subgroups. These subgroups may vary in number, require access to their own information resources, and may well need to maintain their identity across class periods. If a lecture-based classroom is a tightly coupled system, a project-based class is necessarily loosely coupled: not only are the activities of one group distinct from those of another group, this independence has to be maintained in order to facilitate the success of each work group. At the same time, a project-based class must also support the possibility of orienting the class simultaneously to a single focus of attention, for example when the teacher is providing instruction or when classmates are demonstrating their projects.

The general design approach to these demands in Wallenberg Hall is to modularize key resources so that they can be flexibly reconfigured to accommodate both small group work and whole class use. To take a simple example, the furniture in the classrooms is small, lightweight, and easily moved around or pushed to the side. Both chairs and tables are on wheels and tabletops flip up in order to minimize storage space so that they can be pushed against the wall to create open space. In a similar way, the classrooms include racks of laptops and Tablet PCs to allow individual or group work, but also include large-scale displays addressable by the mobile devices to provide a way for groups to give demonstrations of their work to the entire class. In another example, Huddleboards (small hangable white boards) provide white board space for small groups of students to brainstorm and work out ideas, but can also be made visible to the entire class.

In interviews with faculty members, the furniture in the rooms was frequently mentioned as a positive aspect of the rooms. Many instructors mentioned that they enjoyed being able to easily reconfigure the space and appreciated that the furniture was comfortable as well. As mentioned above, at least one professor felt the flexibility of the physical space, and in particular the furniture, helped create a collegial atmosphere. There was minor disagreement over whether there was too much, not enough, or just the right amount of furniture in the rooms.

3.b.1 Small Groups and Modularized Work

A direction from a teacher to “break into groups” initiates a complex social process of sorting, matching, and occupying a workspace. A successful technology support for breaking into groups is one that provides obvious places for groups to occupy and work, and that provides the tool and information resources that the groups need in order to do their work.

In Larry Leifer’s Introduction to Design Seminar (ME 013N), five student teams gave five completely different presentations in the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater to demonstrate their design projects. Just before class, the students arranged the tables and chairs to create distinct spaces within the hall. Each group gave their presentations including brief enactments in a different corner of the room. The transitions between presentations were not only smooth, but also transporting as one corner of the Learning Theater felt like a “dorm room” while another corner felt like a “library”. One key result of reconfiguring the room was that each of presentation seemed fresh, keeping the entire class engaged as opposed to the more traditional and often less-engaging scenario where student teams give 5 PowerPoint presentations one after another.

Prof. Roy Pea and his Online Learning Communities class (ED 298) use the student breakout space and the in-class laptop computers to move between class activities seamlessly. In most classes, Prof. Pea begins with an introduction to the class material and then students break out into small groups – usually with two inside the classroom and two in the breakout space -- to discuss various aspects of the week’s reading. After about forty minutes of small group time, the class reassembles in Room 127 to share their comments and findings. When they are done, the TA uploads the presentations to the class website to create an archive of all of the work done throughout the quarter.

Wallenberg Hall’s classrooms and breakout areas provide the physical spaces and the technology for groups to create work and then share it with their classmates.Most of the courses that have been taught in Wallenberg Hall have varied the furniture configurations based on their plans for each class.

For example, just before one class, Professor Bill Verplank pushed all of the tables and chairs to the center of the room and had students tape their projects to the walls. Because the furniture was in the middle of the room, it was very easy for students to circulate around the room and study each other’s work. After 45 minutes, the class formed the tables into a large square so that they could discuss the projects as a whole. In a subsequent class, 5 tables were set up directly against the walls, each table abutting its own whiteboard. Students, sitting in their final project groups, used the whiteboards to brainstorm for 20 minutes before presenting to the rest of the class.

Stan Christensen’s Negotiations class often began with the entire class meeting together for lecture, discussion, and occasionally a video. During class, the students paired up and spread out throughout the whole building to work through a negotiation scenario. In other buildings, they would be confined to the same room or limited to sitting on hallway floors or stairs. In Wallenberg Hall, they took advantage of the student lounges, the benches, and the nooks on the second-floor so that each group could create some private space in a comfortable setting. After working through their scenario, they reconvened in the Learning Theater to debrief in large group setting.

In Momoyo Kubo’s Japanese class students broke into pairs and discussed the day’s topic, taking notes on HuddleBoards that they later used to present to the entire class. By spreading activity around the building students maximized their time speaking, listening, and authoring documents in Japanese. Professor Kubo glided around class to coach individual teams when needed and offer feedback throughout the lesson.

In a Mechanical Engineering design class, a guest speaker visited to discuss the importance of prototyping and collaborating while working on design projects. As a component of his project he had student groups push the furniture into four different corners of the room and gave the students several minutes to develop a paper prototype and then a few minutes to present their first iteration. They repeated this cycle two more times in about twenty minutes to reinforce the lesson on the importance of iteration. To support this activity, the speaker had the students move the tables and chairs away form the center of the room where a single presentation table had been placed. This configuration allowed groups to prototype in workspace and move quickly to a presentation space in the center and then back again to their group work space.

3.b.2 Using Huddleboards™ and CopyCams™ for effective group work

Throughout Wallenberg Hall’s first floor, students and instructors have access to 2’ x 3’ lightweight portable whiteboards that can be used to generate and present ideas. Complementing the Huddleboards are two CopyCams, wall mounted scanners that can save work done on boards to a website or floppy disk, or print out a hard copy. The Huddleboards sit in groups of five on mobile racks that have also been used as props and hanging space for posters.

The Huddleboards, whether used in connection with the CopyCams or not, are a useful example of a technology that does not involve advanced computing or display technologies, but that can be quite critical in augmenting an HPLS. The key characteristic of the Huddleboard is its portability, the value of which is realized most clearly in combination with other portable technologies: e.g., movable tables and chairs, mobile computing devices (discussed below), and so on. The Huddleboard’s portability enables students to use it as a resource in a small group setting, and then to transport it back into the setting of the whole class if necessary. This ability to complete a “round-trip” between large and small groups is a key feature of the modular classroom, as it makes it possible for the teacher and students to organize themselves according to the work arrangements that are most likely to be effective (in fact, we can imagine a series of round-trips, as students bring the products of their group work back into the setting of the whole class for critique and feedback, recorded on the Huddleboard, and then return to the small group for another iteration).

Huddleboards appeared as a popular item for small-group work in interviews with faculty members, one of whom described them as a “big hit” with students. CopyCams, by contrast, evoked a split in opinions. Three teachers mentioned this tool as somewhat of a disappointment, citing in particular the inconvenience of retrieving images later. Two teachers described the tool is a valuable addition to their class.

Professor Gayle Curtis held his HCI Design Studio Class in the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater – a room that does not have any permanently mounted whiteboards. Instead of using whiteboards, the small groups of students used Huddleboards for their work. The groups broke out, worked on their ideas and then returned to the group with their Huddleboard. By using the Huddleboards, the student teams were free to set themselves up however they like within the space of the Learning Theater instead of being constrained to standing next to each other at one large whiteboard as happens in more traditional classrooms.

Dr. Vered Shemtov used Huddleboards to help her create opportunities for different level students in her Beginning Hebrew language course. In one class, six higher-level students went to the breakout space and worked on their own project reading materials that had been posted on the class website. These students wrote introductions on the HuddleBoards, and saved them to the web using the CopyCam. In the meantime, the lower level students continued their class. Later that night Dr. Shemtov reviewed the advanced students’ work that had been saved to the web, then gave them feedback at the beginning of the next class.

In another one of Dr. Shemtov’s classes, the students used vocabulary that they had just learned to design the ideal classroom. Students broke into teams, with each team using a Huddleboard™to sketch out their design. The teams quickly spread out throughout the class and the breakout space so that each could have privacy. Dr. Shemtov and her teaching assistant circulated among the groups, helping them when necessary. After fifteen minutes, the teams came back together in class and presented their work. As is often the case, time ran out before one team could present their full work. So, they hung their Huddleboard™ on a rail and then used the Copycam™to take a picture of their design and save it to the class website. That same group kicked off the subsequent class by pulling up an electronic version of their work in front off the class and finished their presentation. In a traditional classroom, that group might have been forced to cut their presentation short, or to recreate their work first thing in the morning to share it. In the Wallenberg classrooms, not only did they not have to recreate their work, their presentation made for a smoother transition to the next lesson: it was a clean reminder of what they had studied the day before.

In Paulla Ebron’s Introduction to Cultural Studies class, students used Huddleboards to form splinter groups from their original teams. The students broke into teams to create models that represented how particular terms and concepts were connected. In one group, a single student’s opinion diverged with his group members, so he picked up a Huddleboard and created his own model. Just after this same group presented their model, this single student presented his splinter group model by hanging the Huddeleboard in front of the larger whiteboard. Keeping the two models physically together helped reinforce the conceptual differences he was highlighting with his splinter group.

In Professor Larry Leifer’s class, students used CopyCams to capture their brainstorming sessions and document the first steps of their design process. Later, the students retrieved the images from the web and used them as starting points for further work that they did in their dorm rooms. Finally, they inserted the images in their project presentations that were given to the entire class. For Professor Leifer, this tool was valuable as a way to reinforce his emphasis on the design process itself.

A team of students from Prof. Bill Verplank’s Human Computer Interaction Design Studio used the Copycam to capture the first stages of their final design project of the quarter. Students brainstormed ideas, sketched first concepts, and created a working plan on the Huddleboards. They then saved the images from the boards to a website so that they could continue working from their dorm rooms or other locations; they did not have to write “save” on the boards, and did not have to hold their second meeting in the same place as the first.

3.b.3 Sharing Small Group Work Quickly with In-Class Laptops and iRoom Software

The four small seminar rooms on Wallenberg Hall’s first floor all have a mobile cart of 20 laptop computers to complement the other display technologies in the room. In two of the rooms, these computers are running the experimental iRoom software that enables individuals to share their work quickly with small and large groups. The software also allows groups of students to share control over the two computers projected in the room. These mobile computers have characteristics that are precisely analogous to those of the low-technology Huddleboards: they can be used to support the work of small groups, but can also bridge the gap back to the class as a whole, allowing small groups to immediately share their work with the entire class. All of the faculty members interviewed who mentioned the laptops felt that they were a useful addition to their class. One particularly positive teacher said, “It was really wonderful to have portable technologies that students could just go to the cart, get out computers. We could actually use class time as to do your time and laboratory time for actually working on projects.” One concern that was mentioned (for room 127) was students' potential unfamiliarity with the Apple platform.

In Professor Roy Pea’s Online Learning Communities (ED 298) students do small group work and use the classroom set of wirelessly-networked laptops to research, record, and collaborate. Typically, each group takes several laptops; one is usually dedicated for the group recorder to take notes; others are used to do web research. As the groups wrap-up, they assemble their notes into PowerPoint slides. Next, they use the iRoom software to push their work from their laptops to the big screens – without any cables or wires -- so that they can present their findings to class. Two groups push their work to one screen and two groups push their work to another so that as one group wraps up their presentation on the right-hand screen, the other group is ready to go on the left-hand screen wasting hardly any time between presentations.

In a BioInformatics Project class, taught by Russ Altman, Teri Klein, and Betty Chang, a students quickly shared alternative models of complex structures and relationships. As Dr. Altman was explaining one representation on the right hand screen, the student used one of the classroom’s laptops to search the Web for an alternative model. The student then used the iRoom software to send this second model to the left hand screen. Dr. Altman didn’t skip a beat and then talked about the differences between the two models in depth.

In Doug Brutlag’s Genomics class students used iRoom software to share their research quickly in class. As class was beginning, each student used an in-class laptop to load several web pages with information on the specific disease that he or she was researching. In turn, they then sent their local web pages up to the large screen displays to share their findings with the entire class. As Professor Brutlag and classmates asked questions, each presenter slid her mouse up to the large screen and navigated the site and explained more about the subject

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