Faculty Focus Group Report
These findings resulted from our analysis of the texts generated:
1. Rooms that work for both lecture and group activities
Facilitator: Based on everything we talked about, if you could name one most important classroom feature that would really impact your pedagogy, what would the one thing be?
Faculty 1: Okay. Being able to easily switch from lecture to group work.
Faculty 2: Seconded.
Faculty 3: Third.
Facilitator: Good one.
We then break out into the large class again….my…students…give presentations. They inevitably do use PowerPoints and so technology really comes in to play at that point but really, like the others, I enjoy having very flexible spaces so when students do break into small groups they can do so easily.
- Although faculty strongly identified as adherents of active and collaborative learning strategies, they also sought room configurations and affordances conducive to lecturing.
- They sought unimpeded views from the presenter to all students and among all students in the classroom.
- Even when asking students to undertake active learning or collaborative activities, they reasoned that an instructor needed to be situated at a “focal point” (or “front”) of the classroom in order to direct group activities or to conduct lectures as needed. A focal point for the class also improved instructor, guest, and student presentations and demonstrations.
2. Configurable classroom arrangements
…having a flexible environment is really critical and being able to have moveable pieces of furniture that can come together, separate, be stacked however, like in order to create the environment for that moment because everyone single class I change the configuration, depending on what methods that we’re teaching.
Here’s my thing about the moveable furniture, and this is just is general…I don’t get the movable furniture thing I think if they designed it well the first time we shouldn’t have to move it around…If the chairs move around and they want to shift tables that’s fine. But this whole desk moving thing I think is just a giant pain.
- Many faculty members preferred classroom spaces that featured easily configurable table-and-chair arrangements in order to facilitate student collaboration.
- Some noted disadvantages of flexibility, especially that they did not want to be responsible for moving furniture because it takes too much time.
3. Uniform chairs and tables within a room
Well, I mean, they all have preferences. I would be uncomfortable with a room where a third of the class knew that if they had a class beforehand, they were going to be a little later than their fellow students [and] wouldn’t be able to get a place for their laptop. Or they wouldn’t be able to get a place to take notes on a hard surface.
We talked about equity for learners, and equity of all kinds, and here we’re inviting inequity. You know. Who’s gonna get the ottoman?
- Faculty members overwhelmingly sought rooms with uniform chairs and tables, rather than a variety of seating options.
- Focus group participants worried that additional and diverse seating options—such as sofas/couches, stools, tables of varying heights and sizes, armchairs, café end-tables, and coffee-tables—would provide more comfortable options but carried the drawback of hindering learning when the entire class was asked to undertake assigned activities that require table space (e.g., for collaboration using large-form papers, laptop computers, etc.).
I like moveable tables. I think when they’re individual desks it’s difficult for [students] to actually group together and get group work done especially since they don’t have a flat surface, and it’s working on something together that’s tough.
- Faculty expressed an interest in tables with sufficiently large work surfaces to accommodate devices and other materials, and with casters to make them easier to move.
- Others wanted tables that come apart to form desks or tables that could be moved into one long table.
- A few expressed an interest in temporary partitions for the tables to limit student-to-student visibility during exams.
5. Desk/chair combinations
- Many participants indicated a preference for chairs with casters and storage space for student backpacks or other materials.
- They also thought it important to have chairs that would fit students of all sizes.
6. Instructor-dedicated whiteboards and projection screens
There have been times where I have been assigned to a room where the only whiteboard is behind the screen. It’s inconvenient and also, I look foolish because when I write something, I have to let down the screen and it doesn’t stay, and then when you want to use the PowerPoint, you have to let it back up.
- Faculty members sought plenty of instructor-dedicated whiteboards and projection screens (or monitors) and often wanted more than currently available to them.
- Faculty needed access to both whiteboards and projection screens/monitors when presenting lectures or directing active-learning or group activities.
- They did not think it useful when the whiteboards were located behind projector screens or when instructor-dedicated whiteboards also doubled as projector screens.
7. Whiteboards for student use
We would need way more whiteboards. Nowhere near enough whiteboards.
Yeah, for the intro physics, they would be using whiteboards exclusively because ….Physics, math, chemistry, and a few other fields, it’s much, much harder for students to collaborate at a keyboard than it is on whiteboard because they can’t draw… In the time it takes to write down something…it’s easy [to draw something]. On the whiteboard, I can just write it down. On a computer, it takes two minutes to type up. It becomes a roadblock to everything. Same goes with drawing chemical structures.
I would rather see the whiteboards on more than one wall. In other words in this circumstance if we want the students to interact and share things, the whiteboards need to be close to the space they’re working with.
- Faculty members, especially instructors who teach in the sciences, found whiteboards to be the most important affordance for student collaboration.
- They reasoned that diagrams and formulas are much more difficult to write and manipulate without a reliable and user-friendly tablet and monitor arrangement. Of course, markers needed to be reliably available to students.
- They wanted whiteboards positioned near students.
But yeah. I would love to have the control wherever my technology is being controlled, I would like to be able to control the lights. Definitely better sound; the sound is horrible in the classrooms. It just doesn’t … but if you had that one stop control center, that would be … it’s easy.
- Faculty were interested in document cameras and other kinds of digital display capabilities (associated monitors), but were mostly keen to ensure that projection capabilities (visual and audio) in a room actually functioned reliably.
- They thought it was important to not overdo technology.
- They wanted easy access to troubleshooting instructions or technical support when they ran into technical difficulties.
- Faculty wanted increased Wi-Fi bandwidth to accommodate more devices simultaneously.
- Faculty wanted the ability to record both what’s on the computer and what’s on the board, and to record working group interactions.
- In computer labs, faculty liked the idea of computers/monitors that can be raised or lowered into the table to allow students to see one another or to provide space when students bring their own devices.
Another feature that I like is that there’s a wide center aisle parallel to the stage, so that’s one more row of students that I can get to. But if I had my wish, I would be able to walk comfortably down every aisle…I mean, right now, if a student chooses to sit in the middle of the row, there’s no way I can talk to that student. If they really want to never have to talk to me, there are safe zones in the room. I like students to feel safe, but I like them to feel safe based on the way I interact with them, not based on my inability to do so.
I think it goes back to the desks and the chairs, and the ability not to have them walk up and down rows, right? So just to be able to move. I feel like I’m walking up and down rows, and I’m tripping over book bags and I’m stepping over water bottles, right? So just if you have those chairs, where like I said the no chairs or the bumper chairs where things are under people’s feet, you’re not tripping over stuff, so you can kind of walk around in a more comfortable [way].
- Instructors wanted sufficient space to move up and down aisles or among student groups in order to monitor student and group progress and/or to connect with students.
- The number of aisles, the narrowness of aisles, impediments in the aisles (e.g., student backpacks), and “messy” aisles in configurable spaces were seen as hindrances to circulation.
10. Student access to electrical outlets
My favorite is my students have figured to pull out the little dinosaur … what’s that thing called? The overhead projector, because it has multiple plugs in the side of it. So my projector keeps moving. I finally was like, “What are you guys doing with that?” They’re like, “We’re plugging in!” So they just moved that old … ‘cause we still have the overhead projector in our classroom on top of having the dock projector and all that. But they wheel that thing around, plug it in. It has four outlets on the outside of it. But that was a huge issue as well.
I think speaking to that is the idea of giving them [students] the supports they need. I think the first rule is around technology. If they’re coming from work all day, if they’re coming from two of the classes that they have to use their computer the whole time, they’re gonna need to have the ability in a classroom setting that might be affected from outside to plug in, to get connected, to re-power up. I mean that would be the only thought I have to that. Just we’re busy lives, busy people. We ask them to be ready to [work] and ready with what they have. And the classroom space to accommodate that, that would be one thought. Just having adequate ways that they can recharge, literally and in both senses of the word.
- Faculty members expressed concern that students often don’t have access to electrical power in the classroom.
- They were interested in more outlets on tables or power strip towers.
- Faculty wanted to be able to control lights either from instructor consoles or, even better, through mobile devices from anywhere in the room.
- They wanted lighting so students can see what’s on the screen.
- They expressed interest in natural lighting.
12. Floor surfaces
- Faculty members sought surfaces that were quiet, cleanable, and comfortable such as quiet tile or carpeting.
- When the surface is tiered, they did not want the tiers to be too steep.
13. Classroom convenience for faculty members
- Convenience often was defined as proximity to the spaces that a faculty member inhabited on campus—spaces which were diverse and dispersed, especially if the faculty member held an adjunct appointment or had class meetings across the campus.
- Some wanted rooms to include some capacity (e.g., a locker) to store materials that were commonly used for student collaborative activities–folders, paper, pens, flip charts, markers, etc.–otherwise the instructor needed to carry all these things from office or automobile to class.
- Convenience was also defined by the proximity of the classroom to restrooms, sites where students and faculty could purchase food, water fountains, etc.
14. Classroom convenience for students
- Instructors were often concerned about the convenience of classrooms for students.
- One way in which they imagined or defined the convenience of classrooms from the student learner’s perspective was the proximity of classrooms to spaces where students joined together to study and collaborate before and after class-meetings—often in discipline-specific groups.
- This could mean proximity to informal learning spaces where students of a particular discipline collected and collaborated, and it could mean proximity to the instructor’s office or workspace (if an adjunct faculty member).