Petition to Address Flipped Classroom Expansion
This petition is to gather support against the current implementation of active learning classrooms and instruction methods at Texas A&M University.
What are active learning classrooms?
'Flipped', 'inverted' or 'active learning' classrooms (Such as those in EAB A - C which are the old greenhouses) and curriculum where, on a fundamental level, you 'learn at home' and go to class for Q&A and workshops (PHIL 482 - Engineering Ethics is an example) are something that the University and many Colleges have been pushing currently and are including in future expansion plans. The classrooms typically utilize full sized tables as opposed to individual desks, large classroom sizes with non-centralized layouts and multiple TV monitors. Many arguments have been made that scientific studies show students learn better in these environments, retain more knowledge and have higher grades/success rates, and on paper there is a significant argument why this is a great idea to adopt. Studies though, can have bias, and rarely will any study apply to all students, all classrooms, all courses or all subjects.
What are the major issues with these classrooms?
Many of the major issues with these classrooms which have been raised are the following:
- Due to the seating arrangement and lack of a large central screen or board, many students cannot even see the professor as he or she lectures, gestures to figures/diagrams/equations or works out mathematics/concepts.
- There are only small spaced out monitors, no projector, again rendering laser or mechanical pointers ineffective and resulting in there being no real way for a professor to physically interact with his or her material that is being taught.
- The classrooms have very poor sound isolation and acoustics, making it difficult to hear the professor even while they use a microphone while doing very little to mitigate outside sounds such as people yelling, construction, buses/cars driving by (right outside the classrooms), etc. This leads to a very distracting environment.
- Very poor thermal insulation and climate control systems which result in very cold and very warm spots and little thermal equilibrium within the classroom, again detracting attention from the course material being taught.
- The monitors/TV's around the room are mounted high and with natural light just behind them, and artificial light just in front of them, producing a lot of washout and bad glare on many of the screens. There is also no way to darken the room should the professor so choose.
- There are often issues with the technology in the classroom such as bad monitor refreshing/flickering, microphones not working properly, TV's not projecting cursor traces properly, large setup times required, etc.
Many students and professors have expressed concern regarding these classrooms and these learning environments, and it is our job as students and faculty members to bring these concerns to those in power to do something about it.
What is this petition calling for?
This petition is calling for a re-evaluation of active learning classrooms and teaching styles before they are further implemented at Texas A&M University. While there are many advantages that can come from introducing technology into classrooms, this petition is in support of the fact that it is not currently being done optimally. It is likely that there is a 'sweet-spot' between integration of modernized and traditional classrooms/teaching styles but it is our job as faculty, students and administrators to find that, not simply follow a scientific study that is clearly not working. This petition also supports the addressing of the major issues presented in this petition and a closer scrutiny to be placed on the types of courses which are put in these kinds of rooms. Hands-on workshop based courses may find significant benefit utilizing spaces such as these but it must be realized that many types of courses, especially theoretical or mathematics based courses, on average suffer. Furthermore, Texas A&M Academic Affairs or their designee should be collecting data here at Texas A&M, and publishing quantitative and qualitative results regarding these active learning classrooms before expanding the concept or allowing individual Colleges or departments to do so. One minimum method of evaluation shall be the establishment of a course evaluation question which addresses student and faculty opinion of the appropriateness of the environment.
What can we do?
This petition is also in support of and supplement to Senate Bill 68-32, the Flipped Classroom Improvement Bill. In summary, the bill addresses many of the concerns which have been mentioned, and calls for more attention to be called to the process and plans of expansion as a whole, especially in light of the new Zachry complex plans including mostly workshop/flipped classroom type environments. You can read S.B. 68-32 in it's entirety here <- (clickable link).
S.B. 68-32 has been passed by Student Senate, but as faculty and students, by signing this petition you can add a lot of weight to the argument. It is one thing to produce a document through a body of representatives who's job it is to do so about an issue; however it is another thing entirely to show that students and faculty care enough on an individual basis to sign and comment regarding their beliefs and experiences.
You are highly encouraged to add your own comments describing personal experiences, recommendations, etc. as it will go a long way in helping Texas A&M administration make the best decisions moving forward.
Thanks and Gig'em!