Justine Lindemann, Penn State University – Mapping the Classroom as Community

On Penn State University Week: Professors can learn a lot by seeing how students are interacting.

Justine Lindemann, assistant professor in community development and resilience, finds out how to do so.

Justine Lindemann (PhD, Cornell University) is an Assistant Professor of Community Development and Resilience in Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. She has several years of experience working on issues around community and economic development both domestically and internationally. Her teaching focuses on methods, theories, and practices of community development with a particular focus on civic engagement and anti-racist praxis. She also has a faculty Extension appointment that guides an applied research and programming agenda on issues related to urban food systems, equity in the food system, and urban community resilience more broadly. Prior to coming to Penn State, Justine spent several years researching experiences and politics of vacant land reuse and urban agriculture among Black gardeners and farmers in Cleveland, Ohio. Recent publications center questions of urban land, competing epistemologies of land value, and the contours of a Black agrarian imaginary related to self-determination in food across history and geographies.

Mapping the Classroom as Community


Classroom mapping is a practice and a method to help teachers and researchers learn more about the dynamics of student engagement and participation in a classroom space. A researcher, usually a student who is not part of the class being mapped, uses an online app to create a dynamic diagram of discussion between students in the classroom that shows who talked, to whom, when, and for how long.  In other words, the process makes previously invisible patterns of student engagement visible.

When we started this research, our line of inquiry was, very simply, “what can we learn from mapping the classroom?” We started by thinking we could challenge generally held assumptions about what constitutes a “good discussion” but we also uncovered deeper patterns of engagement, including typologies, of how students engage in a classroom setting and some of the demographic and dispositional factors that influence those patterns. 

As an instructor and researcher, I have seen how classroom mapping can produce rich data on how to scaffold teaching modalities both across and between class sessions and instructional modalities. Our research, and what we learn through mapping the classroom, has the potential to contribute not only to building more robust discussions in the classroom, but to building more effective classroom communities and helping students to become more democratic citizens in those communities.

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