Musical chairs

This week’s photo is my seminar classroom for the semester, for one of my modules. It’s a 300-seater lecture theatre, with about 20 of the 40 students taking the module. Those white straps close off seats, so everyone’s spaced out.

The question to you is: have I seated them correctly?

I ask because last week I let people sit where they would: that resulted in a scattering across the whole space. The result was some difficulty with them speaking to each other in small groups, plus some other difficulty in me being able to hear them speaking to me (I get a lapel mic: they don’t).

So, reflexive pedagogist that I am, this time I asked them to sit in that one section of the room.

Pretty clever, no? They’re closer to each other (while still being appropriately distanced), plus we have the option to talk as a single group more easily. Couple that to using group documents on Teams and surely we have a winner.


No, actually; we don’t.

While students liked being closer for discussion, they still found it hard to talk for two reasons. One (which I’m unable to change) is the ranked format of the room – it’s just really difficult to turn and interact.

The second problem I can deal with, namely the noise from the other groups. Students reported that they couldn’t really raise their voices much because they were aware that the group right to them might do the same and then they’d all be shouting. Quite apart from being epidemiologically bad, it’s also unnecessary in this room.

So here’s the plan for next week. I will be splitting the students up as they arrive, into one of four groups. Each group will have a block of the seating (maybe sitting near the front in block 1, nearer the back in block 2, etc), sitting as close as the strapping allows.

This way, they’ll have the proximity to each other, but without so much of the noise of the others.

Maybe this will work, although we’ll have to see what it does for general group conversation (which has hardly been free-flowing so far).

While this is my problem, I’d also emphasise that this has been about sharing that problem with students and getting their input: this plan is one I’ve talked about with them directly, since they know better than I do whether it’s a goer or not. I think that might be the bigger lesson in all this and is likely to be my big takeaway from this semester.

4 Replies to “Musical chairs”

  1. I read this post with interest, as we are only just beginning here. However, this morning I received this advice:

    It has been determined, after consultation with the Directorate of Public Health and Health Improvement at Leicester City Council, that students in classrooms and lecture theatres laid out in 1m+ configurations will not be able to work in ways that require them to face each other. This is because of the heightened risk of infection, even where face coverings are worn. We know this is late information and that it will affect teaching practice, and are grateful to those staff who asked the important questions that allowed this to be clarified

    Back to the drawing board….

    1. That’s deeply frustrating (and rather what I expect to happen here too, were I to ask): It’s also tricky when you have quite as much space I do in this case, so I could put multiple metres between people

      1. Well, there is always someone who seeks clarification rather than sharing my preference for being able to claim ignorance or ambiguity. I ran a small decision-making game with 16 students in a lecture theatre for 140. One student did turn round to face the others, so she could act as Chair and bring people into the conversation. But everyone was well over 2 metres apart. You can do creative things using polling, shared docs, padlet together, but I begin to wonder what the pedagogical value of the F2F session is then.

      2. I think we’re all wondering about the value of it, when we have this extent of restrictions

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