Anyone who has taught is aware of the power of classroom spaces to help or hinder the work that we do. And recent research has backed up this intuition, revealing that the design of a classroom can have dramatic effects on pedagogy and, by extension, student learning. Yet many of the classrooms to which we are assigned make it difficult (if not impossible) to change the arrangement of the furniture. In traditional lecture halls, the fixed seating makes it very hard to implement active learning strategies, while in other types of classrooms, configurations for collaboration are pre-defined by the spaces themselves (with specific numbers of students and only one possible orientation to boards and/or screens).
Rice is no stranger to experimentation with learning spaces, as SCALAR (Student-Centered Active Learning at Rice) classrooms such as Brockman 101, Duncan College 113, and several others make clear. The university has long privileged collaboration among students, and the development of the SCALAR spaces over the last decade is an indication of this priority.
When the decision was made to move the CTE and the Program in Writing and Communication to Herring 129, faculty and administrators saw an exciting opportunity to combine the office space for these two organizations with a new, truly experimental classroom in which we could develop new ideas about the intersections between pedagogy and learning environments, while at the same time it would provide a place to test out new strategies and technologies. Design work began in 2013, and the current iteration of the classroom was completed in the summer of 2015.
In developing this new classroom, the CTE worked with many units on campus to prioritize flexibility above all else. Toward that end, almost every piece of furniture in Herring 129 is on wheels, allowing instructors to arrange their classroom in ways most conducive to their pedagogy on any particular day. We also hope the space will encourage experimentation with unconventional arrangements so that we can all learn more about the relationship between space and student learning.