SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Classrooms have long been a place of structure, chairs and desks neatly aligned in rows, books and binders stowed in an orderly fashion, from elementary school on up to the finest colleges and universities.
That scene hasn’t been too different in the technical training arena of the Air Force, where time is split between classroom instruction and hands-on practicums. While it has been a tried and true methodology, the rigid nature doesn’t allow much for a personalized or customized experience. It doesn’t give a sense of ownership of the workspace.
The 82nd Training Wing Faculty Development Flight’s Basic Instructor Course in Bldg. 920 is heading down a path, where students are able to collaborate in an evolutionary educational workspace. They are building on the concept of modernizing the training environment at Sheppard AFB, with the hope of seeing this new collaborative atmosphere provide the ability to move at the fast-changing speed of technical training.
“We’re seeking to change the traditional classroom environments for the type of environment that’s evolutionary, and that’s what the new Basic Instructors Course is trying to achieve,” said Audrey Herwig-Mendoza, a Fac-D curriculum development manager. “It’s an evolutionary course which will change and adapt with the strategies and techniques and technology of future training.”
Simply put, Fac-D is creating classroom settings focused on inspiring innovation and creativity among students in the program.
The schoolhouse transformation didn’t happen overnight, Herwig-Mendoza said. Months of working groups, case studies, site visits to local organizations such as Overton Ray Elementary School in Burkburnett, the Wichita Falls ISD Career Education Center, Region IX Education Service Center and Dexter Learning as well as speaking with other faculty development flights in Air Education and Training Command helped with the direction of the flexible workspace.
Gone are the lines of desks and chairs and classic blackboards, as well as the rows of desks with two or three students at each. Instead, oddly shaped tables that set up students for equal opportunities for success are placed throughout the rooms with multi-functional chairs that can be used for traditional seating, a bench or a stool. Whiteboard tables can be marked on and flipped up like a wall.
The collaborative workspace is functional and movable, creating an adaptable environment that can change daily. Herwig-Mendoza said each room will be strategically designed and based off what is being taught at that time, whether it’s suited for small-group discussion or group lectures.
What’s more, as this type of learning atmosphere makes its way into technical training classrooms, it will be a familiar setting for Airmen entering the Air Force fresh out of high school or coming from a collegiate setting.
“There are many studies that have been done on the positive effects for the pedagogy side for children all the way up to high-school age, where when they feel they have more ownership of their environment – they can move around in that environment and work off the excess energy – that they are more likely retain the information because they feel as if they are invested into not just the learning capacity, but also into the physical-social aspect of it,” Herwig-Mendoza said. “This type of setup encourages more group activities, and we are social creatures. So, we adapt better when we are placed in those types of social environments.”
Master Sgt. Regina Watts, Fac-D instructor supervisor, said evolutionary teaching environment is already paying dividends from an instructor standpoint.
“They’re able to come into this particular environment and utilize what has been taught and apply that, so that application piece comes into play with being able to utilize all the techniques that we are teaching them and the strategies and be able to come into this space and take that back out into their schoolhouses,” she said.
Another positive outcome of the flexible classroom is the role reversal that inherently takes place. Although the instructor is in the classroom, course discussions are primarily led by students and facilitated by the instructor. It’s another example of students taking ownership of the environment, another trait Fac-D hopes to see transferred to the technical training classroom in the near future.