(Editor's note: This article is part of a continuing series by University IT on innovative use of technology in campus classrooms.)
University of Delaware English
professor Steve Bernhardt has eliminated paper from his writing classes.
His students now work at tables in small groups and share their writing
on large screens at their team tables or with the full class.
Bernhardt, the Andrew B. Kirkpatrick, Jr. Chair in Writing and the
director of the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education
(ITUE), has been teaching writing classes since arriving at UD 15 years
ago. Since then, he has been able to adapt technology to help his
students’ work become increasingly collaborative.
Bernhardt has always been interested in incorporating problem-based
learning (PBL) and team-based learning into his classroom. One of his
goals has been to create spaces where writers could benefit from
immediate feedback and real-time coaching.
In the past, incorporating technology into the classroom meant
relying heavily on the presence of traditional computer labs using
installed commercial software. When wireless connectivity and shared
document platforms became available, Bernhardt immediately jumped on the
opportunity to include these in his classes in Memorial Hall and Gore
“Initially there were concerns from some faculty about students being
so ‘connected’ in the academic setting,” Bernhardt explained, “but in a
writing classroom, it’s really important for students to be connected
to information, able to access research tools, and able to share texts
with each other.”
He added that although having connected devices in the classroom can
be a potential distraction, instructors can structure class time in ways
that keep students on track if the tasks are well defined and lead to
improved student writing.
According to Bernhardt, there are a few key elements of a well-designed team-based learning space:
- surfaces available for writing, including walls and boards;
- technology that focuses the groups’ mental activity, such as one screen that all seats surround;
- furniture that can be rearranged according to meet the specific needs of different classroom activities; and
- space for free movement of teachers and students throughout the room.
Using screens as a focal point for group work has increased group
collaboration. For example, a team of students can open a Google
Document and all contribute simultaneously to writing and editing.
Allowing students to get their writing in front of other people
facilitates peer commentary and review. At the same time, students learn
the necessary markup tools to complete these tasks.
In classrooms like Memorial 110 and Gore 218, student laptops quickly
connect to shared screens, either wirelessly or with a cable, so that
each group can review each other’s work. In Bernhardt’s classes,
students can also access their textbook, Writer’s Help, from
Bedford/St. Martin’s, so they can quickly look up what they need to
know: how to sharpen a thesis statement, format a reference in APA
style, or choose the right word, e.g., affect or effect.
“Learning in a problem-based learning classroom provides students
with good practice in collaborative skills they’ll use in their
careers,” Bernhardt said. “In many workplaces, our graduates will be
collaborating on written texts, reviewing the writing of others, and
working at a distance with other team members.”
These complex behaviors can be developed in UD’s team-based
classrooms. The collaborative relationships established in class can
then support continued work outside of class, conducted through
Bernhardt noted that having more technology in the classroom
furthered his main teaching goal: to help students develop technical and
interpersonal skills, creating a foundation for the students’ continued
independent learning in writing.
“There is a lot of collateral learning in a writing classroom that
enables the use of technology, collaboration, and peer review — all of
which is part of writing,” Bernhardt observed.
In his various roles at the University, Bernhardt has worked to
incorporate these elements into classrooms across campus. He has worked
with faculty in health sciences on the Science, Technology and Advanced
Research (STAR) Campus and in mathematical sciences, where professors
wanted not only to increase the level of collaboration among students,
but also to increase the amount of collaborative writing that the
“Having access to these flexible classrooms was crucial to
successfully stressing the importance of collaborative writing and
teamwork in solving problems,” he said.
“We are in a much better position with team-based classrooms than we
ever were before. We’ve got great new classrooms in ISE Lab and in
Alison Hall. The Registrar’s Office can be very responsive to requests
for these new flexible seating classrooms,” Bernhardt added.
With the increased success of team-based learning classrooms,
administrators across the University are providing screens in informal
learning spaces so students can work collaboratively anytime. The
library, the student centers and ISE Lab are all places where students
work in study groups, facilitated by technologies.
The continued development of these elements in and out of the
classrooms demonstrates UD’s commitment to the continued development of
its teaching practices to better prepare students for their future
About Stephen Bernhardt
Stephen A. Bernhardt holds
the Andrew B. Kirkpatrick, Jr. Chair in Writing at the University of
Delaware, a position dedicated to promoting strong writing and
communication skills across the university. He is the author of Writer’s Help, a w eb-based reference handbook from Bedford/St. Martin’s.
He teaches courses in scientific and technical communication,
first-year composition, computers and writing, and grammar and style. He
team-teaches “Math through Technology” with Alfinio Flores and
“Business, Ethics and Communication in the Life Sciences” under an IGERT
grant with Kelvin Lee, Scott Jones, Steve Tague and Tom Powers.
He is also the director of the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education
(ITUE) at UD, a group of faculty who promote active, engaged learning
through team, problem and project-based teaching, frequently with an
emphasis on innovative technologies.
Learn more about Bernhardt’s work in flexible seating classrooms: Bernhardt and Downs, Gore 218