The design of the classroom environment is believed to be important because of its effects on students’ learning and their academic performance (Cheryan et al., 2014). However, what kind of classroom is ideal for learning? Previous research on the educational environments have revealed numerous factors of the classroom design that can affect learning, such as the size and shape of classrooms, seating arrangement, lighting, color, furniture, objects etc..
Classroom shape and layout
The size of the classroom might be dependent on the number of students, but different sizes were believed to have different influences on students’ learning experience. For example, students in large classrooms might have little interaction, such as making eye contact, with the teachers (Lei, 2010). The distance to the teacher is considered as an important factor in students’ learning experience (Safer et al., 2005). In physical classroom environments not everyone can sit close to the teacher, which can affect the student-teacher interaction which is vital for learning. It was found that students sitting in the back of the classroom reported lower engagement, attention and studying quality, compared with students sitting in the front or middle (Shernoff et al., 2017).Therefore, when it comes to the shape of the classroom, it was suggested that the classrooms are better to be wide instead of being long, in order to promote interaction between teachers and students (Lei, 2010). Similarly, Safer et al., (2005) found that the classrooms with a large number of rows received relatively low ratings in students’ satisfaction on the effectiveness of teachers. Here comes a great advantage of designing a virtual classroom. In virtual environments, it is possible to make every student feel as if they are sitting close to the teacher. This promotes higher social interaction between the teacher and the student potentially leading to better learning.
Classroom seating arrangements have also been studied to investigate whether students should sit in groups or rows . Raviv et al., (1990) found that teachers and students may have different opinions. Teachers think sitting in rows is better for the task Orientation in classes, while students don’t share the same opinion. However, both teachers and students agree that group classes are great in promoting innovation. However, Hastings & Schwieso (1995) found that sitting in groups could lead to more off-task behaviors in students and thus might be disruptive. Sanders (2013) suggested that the effects of the seating arrangement should be considered along with the course types. They suggested that, for the lecture-based courses, the student engagement would be higher in row formation classrooms while in group-focused courses, students would engage better if they sit in groups compared to rows. Therefore, for courses, especially lecture-based courses, which require much attention and on-task behaviours from students, it might be better to arrange students sitting in rows.
Lighting and colors
The adequate lighting is regarded as an important classroom element for active learning (Lei, 2010). Low level of lighting promotes relaxation but is not helpful for students to focus on the teaching. It was found that classrooms with more natural light will make students perform better (Edwards & Torcellini, 2002).
The effects of classroom colors should also be taken into consideration when designing classrooms (Lei, 2010). For example, bright colors were recommended to be used because they can help students to keep awake while dark colors might create gloomy feelings. Barrett et al., (2015) also suggested that designers should use bright colors as accents or highlights in the classroom, rather than as a main color. For example, classrooms could have furniture with bright colors. As for the walls in classrooms, they were suggested to be white, and perhaps with a highlighting accent wall in a light color. It is also worth noting that the perception of colors might differ for students with different ages. A study (Barrett et al., 2013) has found that students in junior grades like cool colors while senior grade students prefer warm colors.
Furniture and objects
Some furniture and objects in classrooms might have a negative influence on learning experience. For example, although lighting is important, having too many windows in the classroom was found to be a distraction because students might look outside during the courses and pay less attention to the course (Lei, 2010). Inappropriate furnishings would also divide students’ attention and be harmful for their learning. Lei (2010) suggested that technology systems put on the side of the classrooms might make students turn their heads. Therefore, for the virtual classrooms, if there will be digital screens, they shouldn’t be located too far from the teacher, to avoid students turning their heads too frequently and being distracted.
Objects that are considered to be stereotypical of a group or a major, such as video game boxes, electronics, Star Trek posters and technical magazines in the computer science major, might have a negative impact on some students’ interest (i.e., female students) in studying related courses in the classroom, because the stereotypical environments would be viewed as masculine (Cheryan et al., 2009). Female students might feel they do not belong to the environment, and thus less interested in learning there. Non-stereotypical objects such as natural posters for the computer science major were encouraged to be used rather than the stereotypical ones.
It is also worth mentioning that these factors in classroom design might have different extent of influence on learning when it comes to different subjects. For example, some factors could affect students' performance on math more than on reading and writing, while some other factors would have particular influence on reading and writing (Barrett et al., 2017).
The virtual classroom in Project Hololearn will be based on the research oriented guidelines presented in the following. Hololearn aims to stimulate affordances of a physical classroom in a virtual context while preserving the benefits of a virtual setting. Based on the above previous research findings, to facilitate online learning, here are some suggestions on the design of the classroom:
- The (virtual) classroom is suggested to be wide rather than long, and enable students to sit close to the lecturer.
- Students can be arranged to sit in a row consisting of three seats, creating a feeling of a tutoring group. In this way, the seating arrangement can help students focus on the lecturer while also feeling the existence of other learners as if being in a learning community.
- The wall will be white and the floor can be light gray so that the entire environment looks light. The desks and chairs can be in light oak colors so they can look both natural and bright.
- There could be a big screen on the front wall so that the lecturers can show their slides on it. Since the slides would probably be colorful, it can function as a highlighting wall in the classroom, which is expected to attract the students’ attention during the course. The screen should be next to the lecturer, so that students don’t have to turn their head back and forth too frequently.
- Here could be a window to make the classroom look lighter and more natural, but the views in the (virtual) window should be as simple as possible so that it won’t distract the students.
A sketch is provided to show a sample classroom design:
Utilizing the research findings mentioned above, we are creating a virtual classroom prototype functioning as the digital learning space in our HoloLearn project. A screenshot of the prototype can be found below. The virtual classroom in Hololearn was designed to be wide rather than being long, and seatings were arranged in rows rather than groups. The hologram image of the teacher is displayed at the front stage. The wall color is white now, which is consistent with the suggestions from literature. In future iteration of this prototype, we will reduce the number of seats in a row to create the feeling of a small tutoring group. The floor and furniture will be changed into a lighter color. A shared screen will be shown in place of the whiteboard displaying in the current prototype. Besides, objects such as the chemistry poster hanging on the front wall and the bookshelves will be removed to avoid unnecessary distractions for students. Further adaptations will be made as the research in Hololearn develops.
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Safer, A. M., Farmer, L. S. J., Segalla, A., & Elhoubi, A. F. (2005). Does the Distance from the Teacher Influence Student Evaluations?. Educational Research Quarterly, 28(3), 27–34.
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