Inter-Classroom Assessment?

Image of UB classroom.

Photographer: Douglas Levere

Published October 6, 2021

A perennial problem that we, in the assessment world, grapple with involves understanding the full impact of the physical space on learners and instructors.

“...what we tend to see is that pedagogical intervention in campus classroom spaces takes a back seat to things like technical, facilities, and financial concerns. ”

For example, an initial question that we are inclined to ask is: what separates the outcomes in one classroom as opposed to another? Clearly, this could involve a combination of physical-space/environmental factors and also instructor-driven factors. It is therefore not an understatement to say that isolating the classroom’s intrinsic role in relation to learning outcomes is quite a tough nut to crack. However, that is exactly what we are hoping to identify, through a CATT-led research project on educational spaces.

Our approach to better understanding UB’s campus learning spaces will start by first taking a high-level look at differences and commonalities amongst classrooms in terms of general learning outcomes. From this starting point, we may then dive deeper to potentially identify which aspects of the student experience may be attributable to instructor-specific factors, which we then hope will give us a starting point for isolating classroom physical technological indicators of higher and lower student outcomes. At first glance, it may seem trivial, but we know that something as seemingly inconsequential as a classroom chair can have an impact on student learning. For example, the research shows that there is a sweet spot in terms of chair comfort that should be achieved in order to optimize student attention—too uncomfortable and students will lose focus, too comfortable and students will lose focus. This is but one of the environmental inputs that can, and should, be considered in a study like this. Ultimately, we hope that this sort of inter-classroom assessment is effectively possible in the ways in which we envision, and that a careful and comprehensive analysis of a multitude of inputs will yield valuable information for us to act on.

From a more holistic campus operational perspective, what we tend to see is that pedagogical intervention in campus classroom spaces takes a back seat to things like technical, facilities, and financial concerns. Nevertheless, there are many other offices and departments who could benefit from, and help inform, the pedagogical drivers of effectively functioning classroom spaces. This is exactly what we are seeking to provide to the campus through this study by distilling evidence-based connections between pedagogical practices and physical spaces. From this information we may then work toward creating a common language, that is based first-and-foremost on pedagogy, and which addresses the problem of a dearth of intervention in the area where beneficial services to students meets the pedagogical improvement of physical spaces. In sum, we hope that this research project will play a key role in helping the campus navigate future space planning, inform the trajectory of innovative and effective instruction, and serve as a guide for student outcomes-based decision making.