Study indicates physical environment has impact on student behavior

Stefanie Botelho's picture
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New data released from Steelcase Education reaffirms the positive correlation between college students' engagement, their perceptions of academic success, and a classroom intentionally designed for active learning. According to the study:

72 percent of students said the change in classroom design to a more flexible space increased their motivation to attend class

72 percent of students said the new classroom layout with flexible furnishings would increase their ability to achieve a higher grade

84 percent of students reported being more engaged in the classroom activities

More than just percentages were seen. Student engagement levels were compared between the old classroom situation [row-by-column seating] to the new [flexible layouts] and the difference was statistically significant (p<0.0001)..

"For many years, inflexible classroom layouts with rows of stationary desks have not only hindered mobility, but also engagement. With this study, Steelcase Education is putting forward solid evidence around the role of intentional classroom design to demonstrate the impact on student academic achievement – and create a potential template for institutions to follow," said Dr. Lennie Scott Webber, Director Education Environments Globally, Steelcase Education. This study provides new evidence in how intentionally designed and furnished learning space improves engagement, and in turn focus so students are more prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

Steelcase Education developed an Active Learning Post-Occupancy Evaluation (AL-POE) tool to measure multiple student engagement factors as synthesized from brain science, learning research, the National Survey for Student Engagement, and Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber's research work. Over 120 students at four U.S. higher education institutions participated in the beta test including those at Ball State University and The University of Minnesota-Rochester.

"At Ball State we've realized that despite all the many benefits advances in technology have brought education, our students still require a physical learning environment that compliments new technologies and supports new pedagogies to prepare them for the jobs of not just now but the future," said Gary Pavlechko, Director of Teaching Technology, Office of Educational Excellence, Ball State University. "We've known anecdotally for some time that environment can positively impact our ability to create a more engaged and successful education experience. This research finally proves it."

The study's research protocol was reviewed and approved by Heartland Institutional Review Board. A third-party statistician analyzed two semesters worth of aggregated data, and the initial beta study was recently published in the peer-reviewed Planning for Higher Education Journal, published by The Society for College and University Planners.

These results may be used to influence decision-makers thinking about future classroom design solutions at many higher education institutions as well as inform architectural and design communities working in the education practice.

Information shared here is from an ongoing managed research study on the subject within Steelcase Education. For more information on the results of this study, please visit www.steelcase.com/educationsolutions.

Editor's Note: For a copy of the whitepaper, "How Classroom Design Affects Student Engagement" that outlines the full findings, contact Lauren Macon: Lauren.Macon@widmeyer.com, 202-884-7314.

About Steelcase Education

As lifelong learners, Steelcase Education aims to make a difference in education. For students, educators and designers, we work to create the most effective, rewarding and inspiring learning spaces. As a dedicated group within Steelcase exclusively focused on education, we bring evidence-based design, technology and innovative solutions to education environments, wherever learning happens.