Remodeled Penn State Learning space enhances student collaboration

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The redesigned Penn State Learning space in 220A Boucke Building is anything but a traditional classroom.

Decked out with portable chairs, tables and whiteboards — alongside three large TV monitors that enable wireless screen and audio sharing — the space is revolutionary in enhancing student engagement.

“It is a very comfortable space that promotes student interaction,” said Brendaly Drayton, the guided study group manager for Penn State Learning. “A key component of guided study groups is collaborative learning, and this space facilitates that process.”

The upgrade supports the Transforming Education thematic priority of the University’s strategic plan to foster “a curriculum that integrates multiple modes of delivery while leveraging online capabilities and enhanced and emerging digital learning options.” Penn State is well situated to provide students with the opportunity to take classes in a manner and context that best meet their individual needs.

The room, redesigned in consultation with Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT), is often used for tutoring services provided by Penn State Learning, which spans across STEM and liberal arts disciplines. When the room is open, students are encouraged to use 220A Boucke as a study spot.

Undergraduates are able to reserve the entire space or one of the three available teamwork areas.

With this cutting-edge, multi-purpose classroom, Penn State Learning is paving the way for exciting possibilities among peer tutors and guided study group leaders. Neill Johnson, the director of Penn State Learning, called the revamped area “democratic.”

“There is no ‘front’ of the classroom and no separate instructor space defined by a lectern and board/projection screen,” Johnson said. “Anyone can speak with authority on the subject and help lead the group by showing their work. Anyone can grab a white board and work on it anywhere in the room.”  

As Johnson explained, that means even the most resistant students will “find it almost impossible not to collaborate and share their ideas in an appropriately decentered learning space.”

Michael Coppola, who was a guided study group leader for Math 140 in spring 2017, said the space stimulates students’ critical-thinking skills as they engage in productive dialogue.

“Overall, the characteristics of the room — more modern-looking, mobile chairs and desks, and plenty of whiteboards that are detachable — signal to students that this is a setting in which a lot of discussion and thinking aloud takes place,” Coppola said.

The new technology — especially the screen-sharing capabilities from personal devices — has re-imagined the tutoring dynamic.

During one session, John Quinlisk, a guided study group leader for Math 034, encouraged students to create their own practice exam questions, which were then viewable by all participants thanks to the Solstice mobile application.

“The idea was new to me, and I probably wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the ability to project students’ individual work onto the screen so easily,” Quinlisk said.  

Johnson attributes the positive learning impacts to the renovated space itself. Before tutors even had an opportunity to alter their instructional styles, students noticeably — and immediately — became “more willing to volunteer showing their work and more eager to collaborate,” he said.

Penn State Learning’s 220A Boucke location is open from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on Sundays; 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. For more information about tutoring and accessing the space, visit pennstatelearning.psu.edu.

Penn State Learning is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated October 25, 2017