Collaborative Working Spaces

Over the past few years, we have redesigned and invested in the two primary classrooms where our students take their classes. Gone is the traditional lecture-style setup and in is the pod setup. Students sit in pods of 4-6 students, each of which has its own large monitor. There are numerous benefits of this approach.

At St Ben’s and St John’s, we pride ourselves on community, and our department is no different. It is easier to build community when you are looking across the table at the face of a fellow student, as opposed to simply looking at the back of their head. As a result, students arrive early before class and enjoy chatting and catching up with their friends. In a traditional classroom, a quiet student may get lost or feel excluded, but that simply doesn’t happen in a classroom setup using pods. When there is an empty chair at a pod, it is clear which student is missing, and their tablemates often reach out to them to see how they are doing.

Because of the ease of talking to one another, this setup is great for teamwork. Faculty can easily assign problems for students to work on in their small groups. In some courses, students connect their laptops to the monitors and the group works together on a financial model, a flowchart, or data analysis. Oftentimes this teamwork can turn into competitions, where pods compete to see who can produce the best work. Faculty can select a group’s work and broadcast it around the room for other students to review, critique, and learn from. Accounting, finance, and business careers predominantly involve working in teams, so getting our students used to a team-based approach will help them hit the ground running after graduation.

The pod setup also makes it easier for students to stay engaged and see the material being presented. We often display complex computations, financial information from websites, or examples of effective business writing. As opposed to a student straining to see the screen from the back corner, they can simply look up at the monitor just a few feet away.

Outside of class benefits, these rooms are used for evening tutoring and study spaces and are quite comfortable. Students will show up, work on their homework, and reach out to the tutor on duty when they have questions.

Though the benefits of the pod setup are innumerable, there are a few drawbacks. The tables are so collaborative that faculty need to work to maintain student attention, and a faculty member who lectures for too long may lose students to their classmates. However, that is perhaps a blessing in disguise, as it forces faculty to create engaging class sessions.

A big thank you to our generous donors whose contributions have allowed us to create these wonderful spaces for our students!

Students working in groups on financial models in Simons Hall, room 330

College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University

Steven Welch
Chair, Accounting and Finance Department
SJU Simons 238

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