Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Setting up small learning groups, or communities, in your class requires planning, not just in your instruction, but also in the physical space of your room.

When I decided to change my teaching style from a teacher-centered, lecture format to a student-centered, project format, I had to seriously contemplate how my room and its instructional resources were arranged.

I knew I wanted to set up student 'pods' of four to five students. Four makes a great sized group, but five is starting to push it. These sizes also fit with the number of computers I had available. Each pod needed one computer for the group to use, as well as workspace, achieved by placing desks next to each other forming a table.
I placed the pods at the outside walls for a few important reasons. First was to get some elbow space between students and groups. I wanted to eliminate interaction between groups so students could concentrate on their own group's activities. Secondly, this arrangement allowed me to monitor the computers at all times. Third, this setup created better traffic flow through the room, since students would often need to move back and forth to the central resource center.

I've set up the resource and presentation center in the center of the classroom. This is where I keep student file cabinets (the short types), dictionaries & thesauri, school supplies, and art-type supplies. I've combined this storage area with my podium, overhead projector, and the other tech equipment like vcr or dvd players, digital projectors, and the like. This allows for easy student access to all resources, and I can effectively use all of my wall space when I need to present material.

The 'traditional' classroom and the 'student-centered' classroom are very different both in philosophy and in the application. The basics of setting up your classroom to reflect the learning environment you've envisioned must be thought through carefully before jumping right into the pods.

Having previously taught in the traditional manner, I've found the pod setup, or student-centered class, to be both a challenge and a benefit to student learning. Now that I've had a chance to compare them, my students and I prefer the pods.

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For this article, and more on teaching and education, be sure to check out our website: http://www.starteaching.com

Frank Holes, Jr. is the editor of the StarTeaching website and the bi-monthly newsletter, Features for Teachers.

Distance Learning PhD Programs Offer Flexibility for Busy Schedules

Advancing one's education in today's fast paced world is important for anyone looking for career advancement in the field they have chosen. As our globalized world shrinks and technology advances one of the best ways to protect yourself from becoming obsolete in the work place is returning to school for a higher degree.

For those with busy work schedules and family obligations distance learning PhD programs offer the flexibility needed to accomplish this goal. Being able to schedule classes, school work, and study time around work and family is the primary drawing point for those who undertake an advanced online degree. Online courses allow you to attend classes, download/upload course work, and have access to professors and advisors all over the internet.

The vast majority of online colleges and universities are accredited; meaning the degree you earn is just as valuable as a degree earned attending classes at a "brick and mortar" college. In fact many large colleges and universities are now starting to offer their own distance learning doctoral programs and competing with the online colleges. This gives anyone interested in obtaining an advanced degree a wide variety of options when choosing a program in your field of study.

The flexibility of these online degree programs is what attracts most students. It does require a bit more discipline since you are responsible for ensuring you attend all lectures and completing all course work on your own schedule.

The flexibility of going back to school online includes the following benefits:

• You can attend class anywhere you have internet access at anytime you wish. You can study and do your work from home, at work, or anywhere else you can take your computer and get on the web.

• Online courses are designed in such a way to allow student centered learning. This means you decide the best way for you to learn the material.

• All courses and study materials are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. This gives you the flexibility to go over any and all lectures and other materials as many times as you want.

• Even though you do not physically attend classes you can interact with your classmates and teachers through classroom discussions and discussion groups over the web.

• The use of new technology and interactive web resources helps you sharpen skills that will be highly sought after in the workplace, including the ability to network with other users.

• The ability to research and learn is unrestricted as you have the ability to use the internet's power to access a wide variety of valuable content, not just that provided by the school you have selected.

• Integrated learning and teamwork are a valuable part of the online learning experience.

Advancing your education is one of the best ways to further your career and pay opportunities. For those looking for an advanced degree distance learning PhD programs offer the flexibility to those who might not otherwise get the opportunity to return to school because their life is to busy.

Are you seriously considering getting a Distance Learning PhD? If you are and want more in depth information and advice on earning your doctoral degree online then please Click Here. Advancing your education and career is just a click away.

How to Design Learner-Centered Curriculum in E-Learning

Learner-centered curriculum is not necessarily a new idea. In fact, it was born out of the dawning of the digital age when it became feasible that a learner no longer had to be an impassive online learner. With new approaches to instructional design (think the ASSURE model developed in 1999) instructional designers and curriculum developers quickly learned to harness the power of these new technological tools. However, making sure that learning is student-centered and not merely a one-way means of communicating information to the masses is a learned skill. The following list of questions will help designers ensure that their projects are student-centered:

1. Who is my intended audience - answer the questions: who is my learner, what do they do, what do they want to do, what do they dislike doing, what is their experience/background/education?

2. What technology skills do my learners have already? What skills are they lacking? This question will guide you when designing simulations and other learner interactions.

3. What language or cultural differences need to be considered? These types of differences can present barriers to learning and a designer needs to identify these potential problems upfront.

4. What employee tasks and responsibilities are within the scope of this project? Identifying task requirements that participants are expected to complete on the job. Note how often the task is performed, how important the task is in achieving organizational objectives and the level of difficulty experienced in performing the task. If this information is not documented, source it from knowledgeable staff or managers.

E-learning environments are constantly evolving and learners should be given the knowledge, skills, and technology to realize their own potential in an active, collaborative setting. Because of this instructional designers and facilitators must provide learners with the opportunities to achieve the intended learning objectives by designing learning activities that value diversity of perspectives and provide substantial opportunities for collaborative or partnership learning. Continued evaluation of your learning activities and asking for learner feedback are other ways to provide insight into how to do this.

Laurel Silk is currently the vice-prerident of instructional design at SilkWeb Consulting & Development LLC. SilkWeb is a full-service instructional design firm specializing in custom e-learning and print curriculum solutions for higher education, automotive, and the financial services industries. Founded in 1997, SilkWeb offers business and learning consulting services to both small and large businesses. Other services include MS PowerPoint development, presentation development, and print curriculum services.