During Spring Term 2018, the Dartmouth Classroom Committee conducted a survey of Arts & Sciences faculty on the quality and conditions of classrooms on campus. The survey was designed to inform a strategic plan commissioned by the Provost for renovating Arts & Sciences central classrooms, and asked respondents to identify the teaching and learning activities their classrooms need to support. The results of the survey, outlined below, were reviewed and interpreted by a working group comprised of representatives from Classroom Technology Services, Educational Technologies, DCAL, the Office of Institutional Research, and the Office of Planning, Design, and Construction. These results will be used by the Classroom Committee to guide alignment of classroom planning and projects with teaching and learning needs into the future.
Members of the Classroom Committee include:
Scott Pauls, Mathematics
Brian Chaboyer, Physics and Astronomy
Anne Clark, Education/PBS
Paul Christesen, Classics
Bob Hawley, Earth Science
Tom Jack, Biology
Brendan Nyhan, Government
Alfia Rakov, Russian
Faculty provided 210 responses about courses taught in specific classrooms. Respondents represented 37 departments and all divisions of Arts and Sciences. Responses pertained to 103 different classrooms in 24 buildings across all parts of Dartmouth’s main campus.
Respondents were asked to indicate the frequency with which they engage in a variety of activities as an instructor, and how often the students in their classes engage in various activities. Possible responses included:
- Often (daily to weekly)
- Occasionally (several times per term)
- Not often
- Never and don’t plan on it
- Would more if the room supported it
For analysis purposes, favorable responses of “often,” “occasionally,” and “would do more if the room supported it” were grouped and compared to the less favorable response combination of “not often” and “never.” Favorable response percentages are referred to below. Themes that emerged from the survey results include teaching style preferences, the impacts of a room’s physical condition on teaching, mobility within the classroom, and technology.
Teaching Style Preferences
Faculty showed strong support for room features that support (1) traditional teaching, (2) faculty/student engagement, and (3) student to student engagement. Faculty teaching lecture-based courses reported that they regularly utilized writing surfaces (89%) and presentation technology (91%). Faculty members also cited the importance of students being able to listen, observe, take notes, and ask questions (94%). Faculty/student engagement interests were expressed as the need to move around the room to engage with any student (86%) and to facilitate a whole-class discussion (89%). Student/student engagement interests were expressed as having students work in pairs or groups (72%) with the ability to easily transition between individual, group, and full class activity within a class period (75%).
While faculty preferences for student to student engagement were modestly lower for larger classes, all preferences cited above generally apply to all class sizes and classroom locations.
“Classrooms with many surfaces to write on, not just one wall, would be helpful.”
“I like to both project figures, notes, lecture slides and also work through examples on a blackboard/whiteboard. This is probably a common scenario, but many rooms are *not* well structured for this.”
“Classrooms that accommodate different modes of group work is critical. Learning has changed from one-way lecture format to active and collaborative learning. Classrooms must accommodate this change”
“While I fully support making classrooms more sensitive to current ways of teaching, I also hope that there will be effort to preserve the character of some of the older classrooms on campus.”
Physical Conditions and Impacts on Teaching
In their written comments, faculty noted a number of physical classroom deficiencies that negatively impact teaching and learning in those spaces. Cited deficiencies include:
- Poorly maintained or insufficient writing surfaces
- Writing surface and projection screen conflicts
- Limited natural light, bad lighting, or poor light control
- Poor acoustics or insufficient noise control
- Poor air quality
- Insufficient temperature control
- Poorly maintained furnishings
- Outdated finishes
These deficiencies are in conflict with respondents’ expressed interests in using writing surfaces and technology, engaging with students directly, having students engage with one another, and allowing students to effectively listen, observe, take notes, and ask questions, as cited above.
The topics of whiteboards, chalkboards, and projection was the most reoccurring theme within open-ended responses. Some faculty wrote expressing a desire for more writable surfaces in general, while a number of respondents defended and desired to use chalkboards over white boards.
The topics of ventilation and temperature regulation in specific buildings emerged as themes as well. Faculty responses identified a relationship between ventilation, temperature control, and students’ ability to focus on the content of the class. Within the topic of lighting, faculty discussed how dark classrooms are generally, a desire to have dimmable lights, and a general preference for well-lit rooms.
“Temperature regulation and ventilation are very problematic in Dartmouth Hall and Reed Hall at any time of year. Students are often uncomfortable and consequently distracted. Even if we try to manage excessive heat by opening a window, the sounds of passing vehicles, plows, and lawnmowers can be very disruptive.”
“The students consistently complained about the classroom in the course evaluations.”
Mobility Within the Classroom
Faculty’s ability to circulate in classrooms is further affected by crowded conditions and fixed seating. These conditions also impair students’ ability to work effectively in groups or transition between individual, group, and full class activities. Although of lesser interest to respondents overall, these conditions hinder students’ ability to engage in activities that require space to move about or around the room (51%).
Many faculty responded with comments, feedback, and suggestions on the topics of fixed furniture (e.g. desks, chairs, or tables that are affixed to the floor), movable furniture generally, and chairs specifically. Fixed furniture, when mentioned in survey results, was always referred to negatively or as a limiting factor when teaching in a space. Several individuals said that chairs were in poor repair. On the whole, the responses in this theme revealed a preference for movable furniture as well as specific recommendations for changing rooms that have fixed furniture.
“Mostly, I just need a reasonably pleasant, well-lit room with movable chairs and enough space to move them in. And a chalk board, and a single projector. All else might be fun to use occasionally, and I might if I had the technology and setting it up wasn’t a major production.”
Technology in the Classroom
While projection was the highest valued instructor activity (91%), interest was not as strong for additional or more novel technologies to support traditional teaching, faculty/student engagement and student/student engagement. Half the faculty favored student collaboration using a writing surface or projection (50%) and the ability to call on a student to wirelessly show work on the main projection screen (48%.) These preferences were most strongly expressed for classes of all sizes in Borwell, Fairchild, Steele, and Wilder and for smaller classes scheduled in Dartmouth Row classrooms. Classroom capture was only modestly preferred overall (30%) but was valued highly in the sciences: 72% of Biology, Physics, and Astronomy faculty supported its use.
Open-ended response within this theme often made reference to a specific technology, tool, or resource for teaching in a particular space. Responses included: desire for more outlets for student laptops, upgrading room access to ID-card access, and increased access to Echo360 (a lecture-capture technology) or the specific capabilities of Echo360. Some respondents asked for specific tools, including Skype, an alternative to Poll Everywhere, Rhino software, and Adobe Creative Cloud. A few respondents asked for a way to block or turn off wifi.
Summary of Results
Faculty broadly support improving and sustaining classroom systems performance and occupant comfort, adjustments to seating capacity or seating layout for improved faculty and student circulation, upgrading to mobile seating where possible to support multiple modes of use, and installing additional writing surfaces for faculty and student use. Expectations and support for additional technology are more targeted. Overall, faculty have higher expectations of technological collaboration and capture services in science classrooms and for collaboration in smaller classes scheduled on Dartmouth Row.
Based on the results of the survey, the working group recommends that the Classroom Committee pursue and advocate for the following:
- Improve existing room systems (mechanical, acoustics/noise control, lighting)
- Regularly upgrade furniture and finishes
- Extend writing surfaces beyond the front teaching wall
- "Right-size" rooms for learner engagement
- Upgrade to mobile seating where possible
- Rethink fixed seating layouts for improved circulation
- Install flexible furnishings that allow students to work in pairs and groups
- Adopt room design, furniture selection, and classroom practices that easily support different furniture layouts
If considering what space improvement strategy would positively impact the largest number of faculty members’ views on classrooms on campus, examining and improving the number of rooms that can both project and use a chalkboard or whiteboard would be the recommended approach—based on the responses to this item alone.
The Classroom Committee, now chaired by DCAL Director Scott Pauls, will review the survey results and recommendations at its next meeting. These results and recommendations, along with the Classroom Committee’s review, will inform forthcoming classroom improvement and upgrade plans, including a Dartmouth Classrooms Strategic Plan commissioned by the Office of the Provost.
The Classroom Committee and working group wish to thank all the faculty who took the time provide input to this important process, which aims to improve Dartmouth’s classrooms in support of faculty and students needs. The Committee plans to continue to gather data on classroom use and conditions through the periodic use of the Dartmouth A&S Faculty Classroom Survey.
The following individuals contributed to the development of this report:
Cindy Cogswell, Office of Institutional Research
Andrew Faunce, Classroom Technology Services
Mike Goudzwaard, Educational Technologies
Scott Pauls, DCAL, Department of Mathematics