Department of Interior Design

From Learning Commons To Learning Communities

Millennial brains are just wired differently. This fact quickly became apparent when I started my new position in August as an assistant professor in the Department of Interior Design at the University of Florida. I decided early on that rather than ban the use of mobile devices in my classroom, as some professors do, I would encourage their use. I realize, of course, that students may be texting their friends, checking SnapChat or the latest social media fad (I’m so old that I still use Facebook).  But, the truth of the matter is that I don’t know everything. Outside the classroom, information is everywhere, so why should my students be limited to the knowledge that resides inside my brain during class time?

I also discovered that millennial students seem to prefer less formal learning environments where the traditional teacher–student hierarchy is unrecognizable. As an instructor standing in front of a typical college classroom, it is clear to all that this classroom has been designed more for me than for the students. I “own” the space and students are passive learners. But, this is changing as technology-infused active learning classrooms are being developed. In these classrooms, students often work in groups and learn from one another, as well as the instructor, using technology to share information in real time. But even the active learning classroom sits vacant when there are no formally scheduled classes occurring in them, leaving valuable real estate unused while students cram into commons spaces on campus to study or work on group projects.