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The next interview in our series was with Dr. Dorothy Evensen who teaches in the College of Education. She has used the Learn Lab space for her advanced qualitative research methods class. This class is designed for PhD-level students and typically consists of about 15 students.

One of the ways in which Dori explained how the Learn Lab space seemed to support her teaching was through her use of a “Rounds” pedagogy. Historically, Rounds is a pedagogical approach that comes from medical education where a doctor presents a question or issue that relates to a specific patient case. A notable detail of this approach is that this learning activity often occurs in proximity to the patient where the details are more immediately and directly contextualized as opposed to discussing the case in a separate classroom context where the details can seem more remote and abstract. An important component of rounds is that the question or issue is one that is designed to be intentionally complex with multiple facets or dimensions to consider. This complexity gives students opportunities to engage in higher order thinking by negotiating ideas and debating perspectives on the various questions or issues raised by the case under discussion.

In relating rounds to her own experiences and research, Dori described that her initial contact with rounds-as-a-pedagogy was when she worked as a postdoc at Hershey Medical Center. Since then, she has also been involved with the application of it in Legal Education where she has been collaborating with a law professor at CUNY Law School on its use in clinical law settings. One of the obstacles that Dori encountered in implementing the rounds pedagogy in her advanced classes at PSU was that they were typically held in rooms with traditionally designed desks arranged in long, linear rows. So when she heard that the Learn Lab in the Krause Innovation was designed to encourage faculty to try new pedagogical approaches, she saw it as a good opportunity to implement the rounds approach in her advanced qualitative research methods course.

In my conversation with her, she pointed to two features that were supportive as part of the rounds-pedagogy implementation. The first was the circular architecture of the table. Although at first sight, this might seem a somewhat minor component, she described how it supported students’ conversation better than the traditional arrangement of desks in linear rows. Indeed, research has been conducted into the role that table design can play in supporting and encouraging group dialogue (Parsons, 2016). Also, beneficial to her needs were that each table accommodated the typical size of most groups she had in this class of 5-6. This number was also supportive of a rounds approach since it generally allowed for enough diversity of perspectives to generate meaningful discussions.

The second aspect of the Learn Lab she pointed to was the projection screens that were adjacent to each circular table. Logistically, group members use the projection screen by connecting their laptop to one of four connection “pucks” that sits under a lid in the center of the table. With the projection screen and connection puck, a group member is able to share and display whatever is on the laptop to the group at-large and then by using the pucks can easily rotate displays around the group by toggling the pucks. The projection screen and its close proximity to the group table becomes an easy way for the presenter to extend the discussion by supporting it with the relevant visuals. The projection and sharing of data become important parts of the learning space where a central part of the discussion is the real data generated by the students’ applied qualitative research projects. As qualitative researchers, context and “thick” detail is important to understanding the context and significance of their data and so being able to show this to the other group members is important. The students in Dori’s class primarily use nVivo for managing and analyzing their data and by projecting the details of their data analysis and the questions or difficulties generated by that analysis, the projection screen functions as a type of facilitating agent for the group discussion. Similarly, the close proximity of the screen to the table around which the group members are seated enables a smooth flow between referring to items on the screen and discussing their relevance.

A valuable take-away to my conversation with Dori is the relevance of learning spaces to the pedagogical approach of rounds. In Dori’s advanced qualitative research methods class, the proximity between students and the digital artifacts they were displaying on the nearby screen allowed for a lively discussion and negotiation of perspectives. The proximity of a group member’s data via the nearby projection screen (via the puck connected to the student’s laptop) reduced the distance between the data and the students charged with discussing it. Rather than group discussants talking about the challenges of their field research in the abstract, the proximate screens allowed them to show the details of their data and use that as a tool for generating substantive questions for the group to take on. Rather than being spatially dispersed in linear rows across a room, they were organized around small, circular tables that conveyed the class as a loose arrangement of discursive clusters.

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