Harness the Power of Learning Spaces

Classroom space should work for us, not against us. As the evolution of classroom space continues, many professors find themselves working in innovative environments like studios, computer labs, and modifiable classrooms. To effectively facilitate learning in such spaces, teachers must harness the power of the space instead of being paralyzed by it.

At Queens University of Charlotte, the Knight-Crane Convergence Laboratory is one of these innovative spaces. The 20-iMac  gallery, modifiable furniture, Tri-Caster video technology and production studio, and PolyCom system combine to make it a highly flexible and technologically advanced space. Students tell me that, while they highly value the space, the sole detriment of these systems is the high possibility for distraction from course material.

JAMcArthur in Knight-Crane Convergence Lab at Queens University of Charlotte

Here are a few of the strategies I’ve used to enhance the learning environment of my classes in innovative spaces like this one:

  • Encourage lab time to be experimental.
    During our lab times (the time spent at the computer or using other technology in the room) I encourage individual music to be playing with headphones in one ear. I suggest that students who seem lethargic get coffee or a snack at the campus coffeehouse and come back. I will often send people with “writer’s block” out of the room to go for a quick walk with a thinking task.
  • Employ energy shifts.
    If we are using the computers to complete a project, we sit at the computers. Otherwise, we sit around the tables in the middle of the room. I find this especially helpful for critiques. My students will often leave their “stuff” at the computer, bring their notes to the middle and then return to the computers. At the beginning of class, I say something like, “Hello everyone, today, we’re going to be around the center tables. Come join me.” We commonly move at least once per class – and I make a big deal to have these moves occur quickly.
    Note: if we are doing critiques of student work and they are bringing up work on the computer to display in class, then we set the order. While Person 1 presents, person 2 sets up on another computer. Everyone else sits in the middle and critiques. Everyone at the computer is a recipe for inattention during critiques.
  • Invade space.
    I move around the room quickly constantly looking at student work. During computer times, this is a key strategy. I never sit in one spot and rarely stop moving, except to help a student with a complex task. Sitting and responding is not enough to facilitate learning in a space like this.
  • Direct confrontation.
    At the beginning of the semester, I usually say something like: “In this room, I find it very easy to get distracted. For many of us, this means being on Facebook or Twitter or watching a news or sports broadcast during class. This is an unacceptable use of our time, unless we are using these tools as a class.”

Every space is different and every teacher is different. The key to success is balancing the potential of the learning environment with the abilities of the instructor. If you’ve used other strategies to harness the power of classroom space, please share them here.

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