Increased Access to Collaborative Learning Classrooms Could Help Close the Gender Gap in STEM Fields

The Association of American Universities has made a recent push to encourage institutions to install more active learning spaces on campuses, in which students can move and work together, instead of sitting in fixed seats in a traditional lecture hall. A new study from researchers at the University of Kansas found students are self-sorting between the two spaces and that active learning classrooms can be a way to attract more women to STEM fields and keep students enrolled and engaged.

The study showed that nearly 50 percent of the students who chose the active learning space were honor students, compared to 13 percent who chose the lecture hall. The collaborative space also had a class composed of more women. Students also reported a preference for the collaborative spaces that exceeded what the facilities could accommodate.

While the spaces are physically different, the classes were the same, being taught by the same instructor, with identical curriculum and methods. However, in the active spaces, students can move their seats, collaborate, share resources, and engage with each other. The higher percentage of women choosing the space can also be key to ensuring there are welcoming places where they can engage with instructors and peers while they learn, stay enrolled, and move on to careers in STEM fields.

The full study, “Student Enrollments Decisions and Academic Success: Evaluating the Impact of Classroom Space Design,” was published in the journal Learning Environments Research. It may be accessed here.

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