Oliver Tomlinson Assistant Subject Manager: Geographical, Earth & Environmental Sciences Why traditional classroom spaces are still important
Why ‘traditional’ class room spaces are still needed When class sizes are high and/or space is at a premium, traditionally laid out class rooms have a larger capacity. Traditional rectangular tables can still be re-arranged into a number of layouts as needed. In some disciplines (e.g. science subjects), certain practical classes are better suited to classrooms with large rectangular tables or benches than they are to ‘laboratories’ which may have certain restrictions or pressures on use. For example, classes involving maps, charts, air photos, stereoscopes, rock samples etc., all of which are widely used in subjects like geography and geology.
Why ‘traditional’ class room spaces are still needed Where class sizes are small, traditional classrooms make ideal mini lecture theatres, rather than under utilising a large lecture theatre. This is how they are most widely used in science at Derby. Where room capacity is reduced because of room layout – multiple rooms are needed for a single class. This takes more rooms out of circulation than it should and has a knock on resource implication for teaching teams (which they may not have known about or budgeted for).
Eye to eye contact…[Edwin Starr, Contact, UK No6] Many traditional tutors like having a learning space where they are at the front – acting as a focal point for learners. The ability to make eye contact, at least in western culture, is an important means of establishing communication with a group. Eye to eye contact is important – you can see the learners, they can see you. Its easier to see when someone is not paying attention or doing what they are supposed to be doing. You can read faces more easily and see how well what your saying is being understood and adjust or re-exemplify accordingly.
But its all about horses for courses… The number and range of learning spaces available (and their layout) needs to suit the range of different teaching and learning methods being used and in amounts proportionate to that need. Layouts that are flexible and can meet different needs without compromise are ideal, but this may not always be possible. Ensure you consider the needs of each subject area fully before making changes which may hinder or prevent the delivery of certain classes for certain subjects. Remember they have to deliver what’s validated. Sciences often need a traditionally laid out classroom for a ‘lecture’. As an applied discipline, the whizz-bang interactive stuff is usually in a follow up practical session (in a lab or in the field)..
Ensure common sense prevails… Students hate pallet chairs (especially left handed ones). Placing projector screens in front of white boards is simply bad design. Ensure projector screens are ‘wide’ screens not ‘square’ ones. Ensure screens are suitable for brightly lit rooms (high contrast), so lights can be kept on and blinds kept open. Ensure lighting switches control lights in rows parallel to screens, so switching off 1 row reduces glare but otherwise keeps the room well lit. Ensure screens can easily be read from PC keyboard.
Ensure common sense prevails… Ensure room PCs and projectors are regularly checked and serviced. Hardware problems at the start of a class can result in class cancellation! Ditto a projector packing in after 30mins because the filter is clogged. What does squiggle glass offer that white boards don’t? Does its huge cost differential justify its use given the stated benefits? You cant always photograph things on squiggle glass. Some staff will still need 35mm slide projectors and OHPs. But that doesn’t mean all rooms still need them.
And finally… Luckily not even my luddite bunch use epidiascopes anymore. But we did still have / use one when I first started work here! Because we like traditional learning spaces doesn’t mean we are like this! Some of us even use iPads, Wimba Classroom / Blackboard Collaborate, Wikis etc. for teaching some things.