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Any Teachers? What is wrong/right with the design of your Classroom?

  1. Nov 8, 2008 #1
    Hey there guys. I know there are plenty of teachers here, so I was hoping for some input:

    For one of my classes, I am supposed to redesign the "typical university classroom" (though I am sure the the idea extends to the high-school level too). The objectives are as follows:

    So far we have thought of things like using a semicircular arrangement for seating to eliminate the need for back rows that are so far back that you could die in them and no one would notice. We also thought of using the newer "Smart Boards" (the touch screen ones) instead of typical projectors.

    But I know there must be so much more that could be implemented.

    Any ideas would be appreciated,
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2008 #2

    Ben Niehoff

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    The real test is whether you can design a well-performing classroom without drastically increasing the expense. A semi-circular seating arrangement wastes a lot of floorspace. And a "smart board" is an order of magnitude or two more expensive than a blackboard.

    It helps to have a room that is not too big (i.e., not a huge, 400-seat lecture hall), but in general, the only thing that can really get the students engaged is the person standing in front.
  4. Nov 8, 2008 #3
    I have had the pleasure of taking courses that utilize Smart Boards and have benefitted greatly from them. I think that a well-funded university could be convinced that certain classes should have them.

    I don't think that wasting floor space necessarily equals wasting money. That space can be used too!

    And of course the only thing that can engage the students is the teacher, but what tools does he/she need to do it better?

  5. Nov 8, 2008 #4

    Chi Meson

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    I teach high school. This fall we are in a newly built wing. The best bit is I got to design my own ideal Physics room. The only problem is that it's a bit too small, otherwise it is great.

    It features a central demonstration table, 3 feet wide and 8 feet long. I wanted it to have nothing protruding from it, but they stuck a sink at the corner of one end (!). I also wanted it about half a foot lower in height, but evidently nothing existed like that, so I got the closest thing to want I wanted.

    Anyway, there are student lab tables arranged on both sides of the demo table (2.5 x 4 feet) so that up to two rows of 6 students are on either side.

    On the wall at one end of the demo table is the whiteboard, and at the other end is a Promethean smart board mounted to a mobile stand. (well, I'm waiting for the stand, right now the smart board is over the whiteboard.)

    All of my demonstration material is stored in cabinets beneath the demo table. Student lab material is stored in cabinets around the room.

    The only real problem is that there is a different teacher in my room (teaching Biology) during my planning period. But that's temporary.

    I'm doing waves this unit, and last week I had the superslinkys out. Students experienced longitudinal vs transverse, constructive vs, destructive interference, varying amplitude, frequency, wavelength, consistency of wave speed, etc. I was walking around grinning ear to ear over how well the room was working out.
  6. Nov 8, 2008 #5
    Have it in a full circle around the lecturer. That way if someone asks a question they are sitting infront of you. Although, no chalkboards.
  7. Nov 8, 2008 #6
    Yeah! I agree! This past week I set up an ice-cream lab in my lecture hall and had to have 4 stations at the top and four at the bottom, because that's the only space we had space! And of course they didn't complain, because hey... it's better than lecture, even if you're still in the lecture hall!

    Yes, with 120 students in a lecture hall, we pretty much still only do labs (real and simulated) since their conceptual physics class doesn't have a lab, and I feel engagement and application is the only way to get these non-science students to appreciate science at all. How's it working (not lecturing?), I'm doing research on it, but my initial results look good... I think their performance and (definitely) their attitudes are improved.

    What do I which I had? Tables. Sinks (there isn't even one sink in the classroom!). Outlets (there's a few along the edges of the lecture hall).

    For your project, however, you might want to look at "studio physics" classrooms. I wouldn't suggest them completely (it's often hard to convert spaces to these types of classrooms)... but they could be a starting point. They're similar to what chi meson discusses in his post. The space our department is creating only houses ~24 students and the space is, therefore, more like an up-to-date HS classroom.
  8. Nov 8, 2008 #7
    Like the "O Canada" hall at Epcot. Get screens all around the top! :rofl:
  9. Nov 8, 2008 #8


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    I moved this thread over here to the educator forum, because I think this is a GREAT topic for educators to discuss (since our opinions aren't often consulted in classroom design :grumpy:).

    Based on the flaws in the brand new lecture halls I teach in, here are a couple of top considerations:
    1) Consider line-of-sight from students to the board/screen/lecturer. This is woefully inadequate in the rooms where I teach, and the pathetic little monitors that display the slides in the back of the room are too small to help. Basically, they aren't steep enough for students in the middle or back to see over the heads of other students to get a clear view of the screen (I know, I sit in the back of other people's lectures). You REALLY can't see the board from the middle or back of the classroom (more on this in #2 as well). And the lecturer is a dot over in the corner, tethered by a table full of computer equipment so they can operate their slides (if I stayed there, my students wouldn't even see me behind the table and monitors there).

    2) LIGHTING!!! When the lights are dimmed over the screen so someone's powerpoint lecture can be shown, that's the ONLY place lights should be dimmed. All the other lights should be controlled separately. It's horrible to put students to sleep...or to make it impossible for them to take good notes...just to get the lights dimmed enough so they can see the slides projected on the screen. And, also bad if the lights have to be dimmed across the entire front of the room so the lecturer is standing in the shadows too.

    Also related, when the lights are all on, they need to be positioned so they illuminate the board without creating a glare. This has been a problem as long as I've been in classrooms, but I've noticed it's even worse on whiteboards than it used to be on blackboards.

    3) Don't tether the lecturer to a table. With all the fancy new technology, as I mentioned above, lecturers wind up hidden behind desks full of computer equipment. Too often they are equipped with wired keyboards and mice to control slide shows too. You can leave all the computer equipment down in the corner, but give the lecturer a portable, much smaller, lectern or some such from which they can operate a wireless keyboard and mouse so they can see the students and students can see them and they can roam more freely if they desire.

    4) Be careful of acoustics. Clearly the walls of our classrooms are lined with some sort of material intended to reduce echos or keep sound from bleeding from one lecture hall to another (we have a whole row of lecture halls in a new wing of the building). However, that same material has a really bizarre effect of sucking in the sound if you're sitting in the seat next to the wall (and in a full lecture, SOMEONE has to sit next to the wall). It's VERY difficult to hear anything from that location.

    5) The desks should be able to accommodate both a laptop and a notebook for students who prefer to jot some things on paper while needing to refer to something on their computer at the same time...or for students to use a piece of scratch paper to work out problems while taking an exam on computer. The long rows of tables work well for this, better than the old fold-down desks on stadium-like seating. Though, the biggest problem I usually have with those is how the seats are mounted to the tables with those swing-arms...very uncomfortable to have to constantly push yourself out in order to keep the chair from smooshing you into the table.

    6) I agree with Physics Girl that I miss the old wet-lab demo tables in the front of lecture halls. Not that I would have much use for them in my own lectures, but I just think a science lecture hall should be equipped with that option should you need it.

    7) We already have outlets and ethernet jacks at every seat in our lecture halls, so they at least got that one right. I think that's a must in modern classrooms.

    Sadly, with all the fancy, modern classrooms we have, my favorite ones for teaching are the old amphitheater style lecture halls that have not been updated save for a computer and projector so far.

    Oh, and I liked the old sliding chalkboards where you could have three boards stacked and as you're done writing, push it up and out of your way so it's still visible to the students, but a new one is within reach to write on. Perhaps that could be done with whiteboards since that's the preferred board now? They have motorized ones too, but too often, the motors break down and render them useless, so a good, old-fashioned pulley system works best.

    AND, making sure that at least one board is visible even if the projector screen is down is a must! I like the ones where the screen is mounted high up, so everyone can easily see it, and then the board is underneath it, still visible when the screen is fully lowered.

    Newer classrooms seem to leave out the stage in front too, perhaps for space reasons. But, again, I think having the lecturer on a stage makes it easier for students to see her or him.

    Oh, I see the old thread on this has showed up in "similar threads" below. I wonder if anything has changed since then? :uhh: :biggrin:

    By the way, I like the idea of curved seating arrangements too. It doesn't have to leave a lot of wasted space anyway. The empty back "corners" could be used for equipment storage, or double doors to enter the room. That's actually something our classes have that is nice...the entries to the lecture halls have double doors, so if a student enters late or leaves early, you don't hear the sound in the hallway every time a door opens.
  10. Nov 8, 2008 #9
    Do we really need a classroom at university? The traditional lectures are a waste of time. The problems sessions are more important. But there you have to help students on an individual basis. So, I think one should abolish lectures and problems sessions altogether.

    You could simply announce what the exam will be about what books the students can use on some webpage. Then, if there are compulsory problems the students have to do, that can be announced as well.

    If some student needs help, he/she can contact the instructor to make an appointment.
  11. Nov 8, 2008 #10
    Hi, I'm not a teacher, I'm a student.


    I am sure many people will disagree with me on this, but i simply dont find a lecturer, standing up the front clicking through slides of (even well prepared) information engaging. I would much rather a lecturer down the front with a blackboard and a piece of chalk. Which is of course also much less expensive than having to buy all that fancy equipment.

    Many of you are probably familiar with the MIT open courseware (im talking specifically about the physics lectures) avaialbe here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=F688ECB2FF119649 (that is just the classical mechanics playlist there is also an EM one and vibrations i think) I canme across these lectures a few years ago and i think they are prime examples of how a lecture, espescially on phyics or maths, should be given.

    I think that not only giving examples of certain ideas, but actually constructing these examples to explain the ideas IN the lecture, gives a much deeper understanding of the concepts. I know many lecturers try and do this using powerpoint aswell, but it just isnt as effective. I say back to the blackboards!!

    Then again, maybe its just me?? :)

  12. Nov 8, 2008 #11

    This must be a joke!:rofl:
  13. Nov 8, 2008 #12


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    There are many of us who would agree. However, because our students want to have the lectures made available online, which I'd argue is a good thing for some if used correctly (i.e., those with learning disabilities who need more time to work through the lectures at their own pace), we are pretty much arm-twisted into powerpoints. And, by the design of the lecture halls where I teach, it's a necessity. The subject I teach lends itself to PowerPoints anyway...I teach anatomy, and even in the days of blackboards, still would have been accompanied by slides (the old fashioned kind).

    My adaptation to this is to construct my PowerPoints the same way I'd use a blackboard. A lot of lecturers just stick up a whole slide, all at once, filled with tons of content and labels and basically go completely overboard in their presentation of information and it's overwhelming. Instead, I break it down with the use of animations. I only present one bullet-point at a time, just as I'd write one point at a time on a board. When labeling a diagram, I add one term at a time, just as I'd do if I was labeling a diagram on a transparency with overhead projector. The advantage of powerpoint, though, is that I can also use the animations to illustrate a process in a way I couldn't easily illustrate on a blackboard, or in a way that a student couldn't easily translate into written notes...they can always open the PowerPoint and play it again too.

    I would agree with you about avoiding powerpoint for things like math courses though...absolutely, going through the process of solving the problem is essential, and I can't think of a better way than a blackboard or transparency for doing that. However, it's only helpful if you can see the board. :frown: We do have projectors that are basically opaque projectors that we can use to write on paper and project up onto a larger screen. These are a good substitute...the problem in our lecture halls is those projectors are even further into the corner than all the other computer equipment. You might as well give a lecture from a closet. If I could put it right front and center where I can see the students, I might use that more. I HAVE to see the students. When I see a sea of puzzled expressions, I know I need to back up and say something over again. If I'm sequestered in the corner of a room where I can't see over computer monitors, I can't get that instant feedback from my students to realize they aren't understanding something (I wish they'd raise a hand and ask, but since they don't see that everyone else around them looks just as puzzled, they might be afraid to be the one to ask the "stupid" question).

    Edit: Oh, another problem I've seen with the use of Powerpoints is that lecturers talk too fast! Instead of really thinking about what the most essential content is to emphasize in their lecture, as one would have to do if they are slowed down by writing on a blackboard, they tend to talk far too fast and pack way too much content into a single lecture. The students can't keep up with notetaking (even though they have the slides, there's a lot being said they should write down that's not on them too), and they don't have the benefit of the lecture focusing their efforts on the key points. But, this is not a flaw of PowerPoints themselves, but a flaw in how they are used...albeit a common flaw.

    I sure hope so! :rolleyes:
  14. Nov 9, 2008 #13
    Moonbear, this is awesome feed back! Thank you so much for taking the time to put your thoughts down. :smile:
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