The Hazards of Meat Space

Raw filet steakSome brief thoughts on how the physical environment affects one’s ability to teach and learn, whether one is outdoors or in a classroom.

In part this post is inspired by the slightly unwieldy arrangement of tables and chairs at the recent APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC*), but mostly by what I experienced on the first teaching day of the spring semester.

The classrooms on the top floor of one of our oldest campus buildings were repainted and outfitted with new equipment over the winter holidays. Instead the usual hard-wired computer console, each room has what is literally the largest flat screen TV that I have ever seen, mounted on a wheeled metal stand. Between the wheels and the TV is a small shelf at mid-thigh height. A laptop and DVD player are anchored to the shelf with short lengths of cables that connect to the TV.

To use the laptop, the instructor must kneel on the floor with his or her back to the class. Pedagogically this is about the worst thing that an instructor can do while teaching. Of course whoever is teaching in one of the rooms can bring his or her own laptop, but there are no cables long enough to connect the laptop to the TV and no podium or table to set it on.

There is also no whiteboard in the room. Without one, there is no ability for an instructor to easily communicate unfamiliar terminology or concepts to students, especially to those students who might be hearing impaired.

The rooms are a great example of what happens when people in charge of configuring classrooms don’t bother to communicate with the people who actually teach and learn in the classrooms.

*The 2016 TLC will likely occur on the first or second weekend of February in Portland, Oregon, USA.