To begin visualizing what a great collaborative classroom looks like, it is important to identify what makes a collaborative classroom different from the traditional one. While there are no hard and fast rules, below are some key themes to consider when building a 21st Century Classroom.

  • Students have more control over their education
  • Students have more responsibility for their learning
  • Teachers mentor as often as they lecture
  • Collaboration is a cornerstone of the classroom
  • Students memorize less and create more
  • Ideas can come from anyone – student or teacher

These themes are a radical shift from the classroom of years past, but modern technology has revolutionized the role of the teacher and will continue to do so in years to come. While some educators question the value and cost of collaboration, according to The University of Hawaii Center for Teaching Excellence in GETTING STARTED: A Guide to Collaboration in the Classroom, “There is a great deal of evidence especially in cognitive psychology that attests to the fact that interactive techniques when used appropriately enhance the content learning”. The guide goes on to convey, “The use of interactive methods and tools should be a part of a teaching-learning strategy. The interactive techniques become relevant only if specifically linked to course goals, lesson plans, and students’ learning needs and abilities. The use of interactive techniques requires constant change and development of new approaches based upon what both the instructor and student bring to each class session.”

Defining Your Vision

With these methods proven to create better outcomes in the classroom as long as they’re aligned to an overall strategy, many institutions have turned their questions from why should I do this to what do I want my collaborative student learning center to look like? A few things to consider are:

  • Write on the walls! Moveable whiteboards and cork are good solutions.
  • Your furniture should move with your classroom. Ensure it is light, easy to move and reconfigure.
  • Technology isn’t fixed it moves with the room. Moveable carts and lecterns help keep collaboration flowing.

“Real-world collaboration means that we go to the people we know are the right fit for a particular issue we are facing. And sometimes we work alone. And then we find someone or some people who can help us past the next phase of the project. And we aren’t bound by artificial parameters like space or time or numbers of people. And we can work alone when it works for us to work alone.”

– Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT , Middle school English/Digital Media teacher from Collaboration on Wheels: 21st Century Classroom Furniture at Work

Envision a classroom that emphasizes group learning and collaboration.

Picture this: the instructor is the ringleader—facilitating discussions, answering questions and moving around the room as necessary. The students work in fluid teams on exercises that emphasize collaborative learning. The environment facilitates all of this in an easy-to-use way that accounts for all types of learning styles. That’s a great collaborative student center.

And, for your risk, what do you get in return? According to the Instruction at FSU Handbook 2011

  • Students who may get excited about the subject
  • Students who may learn not only information about the subject but also how to think about the subject (and imagine how valuable that skill is in disciplines where paradigms and ideas are quickly changing and increasing.)
  • Students who may believe that you are passionate about learning the subject and who catch your enthusiasm
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