Through productive partnerships with the NC State’s Design Services and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) IT departments, the First Year Writing Program (FYWP) at North Carolina State University designed two flexible classrooms to include all mobile furnishings, mobile whiteboards, and multiple LCD displays for projection. In these rooms (T126 and G121 in Tompkins), students use their own laptop computers versus university-supplied machines. The goal of the design is to give instructors more flexibility with their pedagogy and engage students more in the writing process and the construction of their own knowledge.
Drawing on literature in educational architecture, Torin Monahan (2002) explained that the architectural elements of a learning space can be read for the types of pedagogies they encourage. He wrote, “A classroom with neat rows of desks embodies pedagogies or ‘tacit curricula’ of discipline and conformity, whereas spaces personifying the flexible properties…can be said to embody pedagogies of freedom and self discovery” (“Built Pedagogy” section, n.p.). In other words, the space itself embodies a particular kind of educational theory or philosophy that ranges between discipline and autonomy.
The FYWP at NC State places a specific emphasis on active learning and the peer review process in its courses. Listed first in the First-Year Writing Program Faculty Handbook for first-year courses is the principle that:
Writing instruction is student-centered. Extended lecturing is rare. Instruction is participatory, designed to engage students in active examination of the purposes and critical features of new kinds of writing and to refine and adapt their developing skills for a range of rhetorical purposes. Varied instructional approaches are used to promote active engagement with writing, including independent work and learning in collaborative groups.
Since student-centered, active learning is endorsed and encouraged, we believe our classroom spaces should reflect this philosophy. As a result, we continue to study writing students and teachers in the flex rooms so that we might redesign more rooms in the program that support best practices and principles for instruction. The design of the flex classrooms has been influenced by the work of NC State Physics Education Professor Robert Beichner, who started the SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environments with Upside-down Pedagogies) Project. Beichner and his colleagues have been studying active learning environments and reformed pedagogies for more than thirteen years, and the SCALE-UP classroom model has been adopted by many colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, and abroad.
If you have questions about the program’s flexible writing classroom initiative, contact Dana Gierdowski, Teaching Assistant Professor of Composition & Rhetoric in the Department of English.