The classroom environment is a major contributing factor that can either enhance or reduce student performance. Several studies by scholars have also recognised the important role played by classroom environment in learning and teaching. Hence the literature review will critically examine such important aspects of classroom environment that differentiate classrooms of foreign and local students of FNU Nadi campus. The factors which will be outlined are arranging the classroom space, the desk placement methods, the environmental preferences of students such as lighting and temperature and also some crucial factors such as overcrowding in classrooms and noise level.
Arranging the classroom space: To begin with, the arrangement of the classroom furniture is one of the differentiating factors in classroom environments. Studies by Linda Shalaway state that the classrooms physical layout reflects a teacher and his/her learning style (Shalaway: 2011). Classroom space includes the arrangement of furniture, classroom decoration and even student placement/ seating arrangement. In Reggio Emilia a town located in the north of Italy, its educators stress on the importance of classroom environment and consider it to be ‘another teacher’ (Shalaway: 2011). While Rivlin and Rothenberg (1976) found that teachers do not seem to know how to arrange the furniture. Therefore it is important for a teacher to design his/her classroom in such a way that it is able to cater for all the students needs. One such way outlined by Sturt is that we can arouse students’ interest by having interesting wall displays and exciting objects around to make a complex environment. Although it is sad to note that classroom decoration is given the least concern especially at tertiary level and it’s high time that it is given more importance now.
Desk placement methods: Moreover, the arrangement of desk is one of the common and most influential factors of classroom environment. Studies reveal that some teachers prefer to seat students in U shaped settings so that they can make eye contact with every student (Shalaway: 2011). Another research done by Holley & Steiner, (2005) revealed that seating arrangements that allowed class members to see everyone such as sitting in a circle contributed to the creation of a safe space. In respect to my research, the seating arrangement of foreign students’ classroom is generally in a U shape that facilitates ease of mobility and group interaction. While the classroom of local students at FNU Nadi Campus, has desk arranged in single and double rows that mostly cater for independent work. Contrary to that, in the research carried by Holley & Steiner (2005) students had stated that row-style seating was a characteristic of an unsafe classroom. Thus the desk placement should be such that it allows group interaction but at same time is able to cater for independent work as well.
Environmental preference: Lighting Moving on, there are certain environmental preferences that affect classroom environment. One of them is the amount of light or lighting in classroom either its natural light (sunlight) or artificial- such as light bulbs. “Light is one of the elements of the immediate environment that affects some students’ ability to learn” (Burke & Burke-Samide: 2004: 236). The writer also states that those who preferred bright light performed better when tested in brightly lit classrooms. While students who preferred dim lights performed better in dimly lit atmosphere. Therefore it is wise to have ample light that best suits the need of everyone. In my research the classrooms of foreign students are normally lit by artificial lighting while classrooms of local students usually use natural lighting. This shows that lighting preference differs from classroom to classroom. Although, it is advisable for teachers to adjust the classroom lights according to the students preferences to help facilitate learning.
Temperature Likewise, temperature is another environmental preference that differs in classroom environment situations. Research on the environment element of temperature reveals that most students prefer a warm yet comfortable instructional climate (Burke & Burke-Samide: 2004: 236). While Pepler (1972) found that non- air conditioned schools in the summer produced a wider distribution of test scores (variance) compared with air-conditioned schools. This aligns with my research as the classrooms of foreign students have air condition to control temperature while the local students of FNU Nadi Campus bear the heat of the normal climate. Therefore, it’s likely that the temperature either extremely hot or cold can affect student performance and productivity.
Overcrowded classrooms Furthermore, overcrowding in classrooms in general affects the classroom environment. As Baron & Rodin (1978) found that as class size increases, so does learned helplessness. Students in large classes have less opportunity for the teacher to give personal praise and thus it leads to learned helplessness. Therefore classrooms should be such that it is able to cater/accommodate the required number of students. In respect to my research, the classrooms of foreign students are just big enough to accommodate small groups of a maximum of 8 students while classrooms of local students which are large enough to accommodate 40 students at a time usually get overcrowded because of lack of big airy classrooms and tutors have to cater for over 80 students at a time in the same classroom. Hence classroom size should be large enough to cater for everyone’s needs.
Noise Last but not the least; noise is one of those major elements that affect classroom environment. “Sound is an element of the environment that can affect academic achievement” (Opolot- Okurut: 2010: 267- 277). Studies conducted by Sturt (n.d), surveyed children in elementary schools that were beneath the flight path for Los Angeles International Airport and compared it with children in quieter classrooms. It was found that children in noisy schools had higher blood pressure and were more distractible compared to children in quieter classrooms. Likewise, Bronzaft and McCarthy (1975) studied children taught in classes on either side of a school. One side of the school faced a noisy railway track and it was found that 11% of teaching time was lost on the noisy side and reading ability was down compared to children on the other side. This suggests that noise indeed affects students’ ability to learn. With respect to my research, classrooms of foreign students are enclosed hence there is very little chance of noise disturbance while classrooms of local students are fairy open hence a lot of noise gets generated within and outside of the classroom.
To conclude, it can be said that certain environmental factors such as classroom space, desk placement methods, light and temperature preferences along with overcrowding and noise in classrooms affect the general harmony of the classroom environment. From the literature findings I can suggest that things such as decorating classrooms will help make students energetic and enthusiastic towards learning. Also desk should be arranged in such a manner that it propagates both individual and group discussions. Similarly, educators should be considerate of students’ preferences of light and temperature. While at the same time avoid overcrowding and noisy situations in class. Hence in the long run it will help educators to wisely spend their investments in upgrading facilities as they will be able to analyse the impact of different environmental features so that students, faculty and universities get the most benefit from the spending.