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Making Space for Learning

Notice: Originally published March 23, 2016 at Teaching Out Loud.

I’m really excited about my classroom this quarter. Yes, I’m excited about the course topic. And of course I’m excited about the students. But I’m especially thrilled to teach in Dartmouth’s new Berry Innovation Classroom.

Here’s why.

I teach courses on American media. For the last two years I’ve taught in our film screening room. If you want students to focus all their attention on the front of the room, it’s perfect. The screen is huge. Fixed rows of tables at different heights guarantee clear lines of sight. And the touch panel controls make you feel like you’re on the USS Enterprise, even if you’re only on the USS PowerPoint.

But the first time I asked students to get into small discussion groups, I cringed at the result. Tables at different heights meant some students had to stand, while others stayed seated. Chairs could move, but there wasn’t enough space to pull them into clusters. Even moving from one row to another meant walking all the way down to the end, ducking under a handrail, and walking back.

Dartmouth students are problem solvers. They improvised. They dragged their chairs up and down stairs. They climbed over tables. Sometimes they gave up on the furniture entirely, and just worked in small groups wherever there was open space on the carpet. Active learning happened, but it took some work.

Thanks to the students, our classes in the screening room turned out fine. But I’ll always think about how we could have spent that time and effort learning, rather than fighting for the space to learn.

In the Berry Innovation Classroom, we don’t have to adjust our learning to the space. The space adjusts to our learning. All the tables and chairs move. Wall surfaces double as whiteboards and projection screens. Anyone can use any projector from anywhere, wirelessly. And believe it or not, there are even more touch panels. In this new learning space, I’m not the only captain. Every crew gets their own starship.

So I’m excited. I know how important it is to make space for learning. I won’t take that space for granted.

Michael S. Evans

© Michael S. Evans 2008-2017