Flexible Classrooms

Flexible classrooms are learning spaces designed to encourage student interaction, to engage them with active learning techniques and thereby create the opportunity for retention and transfer of knowledge and deeper learning.

The basic idea of flexible classrooms is to remove students from a passive learning environment and instead create a space that encourages and facilitates their involvement in each and every class.  At UT, flexible classrooms come in several configurations.  There are several TEAL classrooms (technology-enhanced rooms), some ‘scale-up’ rooms, and–in the UTK Humanities and Social Science Building or HSS there are a host of flexible classrooms, using “node chairs” and smart boards.

UT student Hannah Margaret Allen recently posted the following video article on the HSS renovations, “A New Spin on the Classroom.”   For information on how to do “group work,” see the HSS workshop information: The Flexible Classroom.

Flipped Classroom:
One way to use a studio classroom is to “flip” your course.  This involves moving lecture material (which can be archived in many forms, including video) outside of class.  Students ‘watch’ a lecture before class.  A brief quiz or homework assignment connected to the lecture ensures accountability.  By moving the lecture out of class, class time is freed up for various types of student work, which is conducted with the aid of the instructor.  Instructors model problem solving and other tasks and observee and comment on student methods; essentially, instructors are now watching students do “homework” and observing where students have difficulty.For more information on utilizing flexible and TEAL classrooms, see the “Flexible Classrooms” pedagogy sheet, or review the resources below.  For a quick introduction to the flipped classroom (one page each with references), read “Understanding the Flipped Classroom” Part One and Part Two.  If you are working on flipping the classroom, it is highly recommended that you read this short article: “First Day Questions for the Learning-Centered Classroom” by Gary Smith.  Preparing your students will lead to much better results.

TEAL: Technology Enhanced Active Learning
An explanation of the way John Belcher, Peter Dourmashkin, and David Lister transformed the freshman phyics courses at MIT using a studio classroom model.  After a twenty minute lecture, students work in groups to answer discussion questions, solve problems, and perform experiments given by the instructor.  Success from the new form of teaching is evidenced by the fact that learning gains from the new course are nearly twice the average of the old course.

 The SCALE-UP Project
A description of the SCALE-UP classroom design. Tables in the room are arranged much like in a restaurant, and each table holds up to three teams of three to four students. Each team has access to a laptop and a nearby whiteboard, and the format allows students to be very interactive with the teacher and each other when answering assigned problems.  Success is seen from many metrics, including better grades and lower failure rates.

In addition, here is a video about Virginia Tech’s use of studio classrooms: SCALE UP Video

Space Matters 
A systematic and empirical study of the effects of physical learning spaces on teaching and learning outcomes. The author aimed to isolate the effects of the learning space while keeping other factors constant. Results show that the studio spaces produced better learning outcomes, with students citing “round tables” as the one of the most important aspects of the learning space.

Effects of Studio Space on Teaching and Learning
A case study on two classes taught in a studio classroom. Most interestingly, one instructor had no plans to adapt her style of teaching to the classroom space, but over the course of the semester, a change occurred naturally that saw her students become more engaged and active during class discussions.

The Rensselaer Studio Model for Learning and Teaching 
This study provides a model for organizing an effective and efficient way to use a studio classroom to teach a large enrollment course with several sections.  Many processes are streamlined to make the workload easier on professors so that they can focus on interacting with the students adequately during each class.  Student learning gains in the studio classrooms far outpaced learning gains for students taught in a traditional class.


Page initially created by Intern Will Jolly, Fall 2011.  Revised Fall 2012.