NMC Beyond the Horizon

nmc.logo+url.cmykOSU’s Learning Innovation Center (LINC) is dedicated general education building with 17 classrooms capable of seating 2,200 students.  The building perimeter on all four floors hosts 650 varied informal learning spaces.  The Geometry of Learning research agenda was motivated during the planning of LINC, particularly because it includes learning space designs that have no precedent in higher education.  This is particularly the case with the three teaching-in-the-round rooms in which the instructor is surrounded 360 degrees by the learners.

The New Media Consortium featured these circular designs in the 2016 Horizon Report > 2016 Higher Education Edition.

“With years of thorough research and thoughtful design, campuses worldwide are building state-of the-art classrooms and other spaces that foster greater collaboration in healthier environments. Oregon State University’s new Learning Innovation Center, for example, features “in the round” classrooms that enable faculty to get in close proximity to every student in even the largest of courses. The placement of classrooms in the center of the building allows for greater flow between classes, and added informal learning spaces enable students and faculty to work together outside of class.” (NMC, Horizon Report > 2016 Higher Education Edition, P.13)

As follow-up to the report, NMC asked Jon Dorbolo to join a panel discussion about innovative learning spaces for the NMC Beyond the Horizon > Learning Spaces webcast on July 13, 2016.  Thanks to Jeff Hino for facilitating the connection.

The webcast, which was attended by 39 participants from around the globe, is available for view and features fascinating work from Purdue, North Carolina, and the University of Oklahoma.

Have a watch and let us know what you think!

Image Acknowledgements



Research Questions

Woman_teaching_geometryThe fundamental research question of The Geometry of Learning in Phase I (F14-F16) is:

Do the conditions of a learning space environment correlate to seating choices and learning outcomes of students who use that environment and experience those conditions?

From this general question numerous corollary research questions emerge with may be investigated by various analyses. The variables identified in this study as learning space conditions fall into three categories.

Structural: the shape and size of a room combined with the arrangement of seats and other spatial/temporal features of the lecture venue.

Sensory: light, sound, distance, and angle of vision count prominently in this study, although we are not measuring subjective experience. Rather we are measuring the physical conditions that are speculatively related to learning.

Social: measure where students sit and also who they sit near. This will allow us to test whether social networks emerge or whether seat choices are influenced by social grouping.

In all cases the variables that we have chosen to measure are based on either prior findings or our own speculation that they are related to learning outcome in measurable ways.

The study so conceived forms a research framework designed to produce a significant data-set of environmental characteristics and performance indicators that may support a variety of hypothesis driven analysis strategies. By way of example, but not limited to:

  • Do classroom environmental factors correlate to student performance?
  • Do students’ seating proximity to the instructor correlate to student performance?
  • Does a round room exhibit significant differences for any of these factors compared to traditional rectangle rooms?
  • Is seat choice is influenced by prior student performance (e.g. GPA or SAT).
  • What motivates students’ seat choices?
  • Are initial seat choices persistent over the course of a class or are students mobile throughout the term?
  • Do students make seat choices because of the perceived quality of the seat or area of the seat?
  • Do social networks form in classrooms and how do they behave?
  • Do students make seat choices because of social factors?
  • Do the answers to these questions change when presented with an unfamiliar room shape such as a classroom-in-the-round?
  • Do action zones (e.g. T-Zone patterns) occur in OSU classrooms?

Many more such corollary research questions follow from the data-set that we are building in this study.


Image Acknowledgements


Research Executive Summary

Ord7_triakis_triang_tilThe Geometry of Learning

What is it?  The Geometry of Learning is a research framework designed to construct a large set of broad and deep knowledge about classroom learning spaces at Oregon State University (OSU).

What is the purpose?  We are investigating whether and how physical characteristics of classrooms correlate to learning outcomes and teaching practices.

Why does it matter?  Prior research shows that characteristics and conditions in classrooms do correlate to learning outcomes.  If we identify these factors in OSU classrooms, we may plan to optimize the conditions for student success.  Evidence-based findings about classroom values and learning will inform OSU’s ongoing investment in classroom redesign.


What is being measured?  Factors potentially related to student success.
– Student daily seat locations.
– Student learning outcomes (e.g. clicker responses, course grade percentile, GPA).
– Student attitudes and self-reported conditions (e.g. qualitative survey).
– Classroom values (e.g. light, sound, angle of vision, proximity to instructor, mobility).
– Validation of clicker method of seat location.

How is it being accomplished?  Nearly than 10,000 students in 50 participating class sections taught by 15 instructors from across the curriculum have consented to enter their seat locations at the start of each class session using clickers.  A program of structured interviews with instructors, Tales from the Learning Circle, will constellate methods and experiences about innovative classrooms such as the LINC round rooms.

Who is involved?  An interdisciplinary research team of 16 academics and professionals from several OSU departments as well as Boora Architects and Turning Technologies.  The entire NMC498 Capstone class is produced projects within this study.  Jon Dorbolo is the Principle Investigator and reports results to the Provost, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Vice Provost of Information Services, and the Director of Academic Technology.

When will there be results?  The six terms of data collection concludes in S16 and analysis will be underway in U16 with anticipated findings for publication in F16.

How is it funded?  OSU Academic Affairs provided $120,000 over two years to support the research project.  The funds are managed by the Center for Teaching and Learning.  Academic Technology provides in-kind support via .15fte of the PI salary, time for the Data Manager, .50 Data Analyst, time from a DBA to construct the data base, support from Classroom Technology, and incidental costs.

What comes next?  General purpose analyses will be completed to support hypothesis-driven analysis strategies lead by research team individuals.  Key findings will be reported to OSU leadership and the community, especially students.  Academic publications and conference presentations will follow.  Findings will guide new research questions which will be developed as proposals to external funding sources.  Inter-institutional collaborations will be explored as well as options to establish an Institute for Learning Space Innovation to carry on this research.


2015, Jon Dorbolo