At Sheffield Hallam University flexibility and active learning inform our approach to classroom design. The University now has Flexible Classrooms Protocol agreed by the University Leadership Team (June 2016) see more.
The classroom responds to teaching – not vice versa
Flexible classrooms allow the academic to use a variety of teaching and learning methods by changing the way the furniture, fittings and technologies are used. A flexible classroom allows for the reconfiguration of tables and chairs prior to a session or during it.
Furniture is arranged to suit classroom activity
Ultimately this flexible classroom philosophy challenges the idea of the ‘teaching wall’ and associated default configurations in which students are always expected to focus on the front of the room. Participants (students or teachers) should be able to easily re-orientate themselves when the session focus changes. Engagement patterns in a session may shift between teacher-led activities, large group discussion, small group or individual activities.
The furniture and technology in classrooms is being upgraded over time to make it easy to change configurations. Light stackable chairs, strong fold-away tables and extra chairs in rooms are helping us to achieve this.
The development of IT infrastructure is now focused on the integration of portable devices including BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices), laptops and smart technologies. Students can also access laptop loan facilities across campus for independent study and classroom learning.
Suggestion: Involving students in discussion about the best room layout can help them to clarify how they are expected to engage in session. Involving students in moving the furniture can promote their sense of responsibility for the session and help to form a co-operative spirit.
Adapting your practice
Many academics are not used to teaching in active and flexible classrooms. Classrooms at Sheffield Hallam have been designed to support a teacher-centred approach and in many cases, classrooms still make student-centred teaching difficult.
This page on ‘common challenges when teaching in an Active Learning Classroom – and how to address them’ recommends taking an incremental approach to adopting a more student-centred active approach and offers advice on how to go about this.
Note – change takes time
The University recognises that in many rooms furniture is still heavy compared to the lighter tables and chairs being purchased for new buildings and refurbishments. It is committed to flexible and active learning and to upgrading furniture to accommodate this.
Likewise, technology is changing continuously but it takes time to change everything. The priority is to look after the reliability of our facilities. Please bear with us and work with us.