I recently received back the discursive evaluations from my spring quarter class—ENG 276, Introduction to Rhetoric—which I was fortunate enough to hold in the Learning Collaborative Studio one of the two class sessions each week. One of the most instructive sections in the evaluation is where students answer, “Which areas/aspects of the course could use improvement? What would you change to make the course more edifying/attractive/applicable?”
Although most of the replies focused on course content, one response in particular stuck out:
It goes without saying—but perhaps better with—that for a student to strike such an unequivocal statement about the importance of class location in an evaluation is rare. The suggestion to hold every class in the Learning Collaborative Studio is a strong indication of the positive impact that the space had on student learning and development.
Some may think that the precursor to this suggestion—that the student “hated” the other classroom—lessens the weight of such a claim. But some context here may help. Our Wednesday classes were held in Denney 206, a spacious, well-lit room with plenty of technological capacities, including an excellent projector, built-in sound system and two projector screens.
Apart from the computer-equipped classrooms on the third floor (maintained by the friendly and fragrant folks at the Digital Media Project), this space is arguably Denney’s best to teach in. So why, then, is this student so adamant that every class be held in the LCS?
The overwhelming amount of possibilities opened up through the room’s technology seems an obvious point of departure for answering such a question—and with good reason: it’s brimming with tools that can enhance pedagogy at any level. Between the dual projectors, the impressive ceiling speakers, and the SMARTboard wireless slate (a personal favorite), it’s easy to see how the LCS catalyzes learning through technology. But I’m going to pass over the chance to do product reviews and briefly concentrate instead on two aspects of the LCS that may get undervalued because of the tendency to fetishize its easily-fetishizable technology.
Atmosphere: It’s well known that location influences performance (just consider “home-team advantage”). In a traditional classroom (where chairs are aligned in rows, possibly bolted to the floor), students are more inclined to think of themselves as traditional students—receptacles of knowledge, rather than active participants in the creation and circulation of knowledge. The LCS has a climate that invites students to see themselves as young professionals. It could be the fashionable (yet comfortable chairs), the ample desktop space, or the fact that the furniture is reconfigurable, easily capable of creating a truly collaborative setting at a moment’s notice. Or it could the accumulation of all of these factors (and more) that has students performing differently when in the LCS.
Staff Support: We should never forget that it’s the people operating behind the scenes in the LCS that make it the great pedagogical space it is. The Digital Union is stocked with inspired individuals always searching for a way to help push pedagogy in unique directions. Take for instance the day I changed up the lesson plan on my bike ride in to work: instead of me explaining the rhetorical maneuvers my lawyer-friends often use in the courtroom I decided it would be great to simply have them tell it in their own words. I approached Alex Wilkerson, the on-duty room technician, with the last-minute idea and within five minutes we had a phone hooked up to the internal speaker system and presto!—a spontaneous guest lecture. Eager to help instructors make the most the LCS, this staff deserves a round of applause.
There are other aspects of the LCS—apart from its obviously awesome technology—that contribute to it being a stimulating space for teaching, so I’m hoping that others out there will help fill this initial list out a bit more. (Are you like me, where you simply feel like a bad*** when teaching in the room and consequently, are willing to approach things differently?) What are some of the more subtle ways in which the LCS affects your pedagogy?