Explode your classroom

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Traditional classroom

Any architect would tell you that space defines interactions, but we also know that humans adapt to their conditions. How does this affect teaching? This is a short personal story and a plea for an entirely different kind of classroom.

I did not learn about innovative teaching when I came to Wash U. Much of what I do now I did at Rice U. But less so. Why? In large part because of the classroom. I’m now in a room that virtually forbids lecturing since there is nowhere in the room that the teacher is visible to all the students. At first it annoyed me, but then I found it very liberating.

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If we have a traditional lecture classroom and do not lecture, students have to turn and talk sideways or backwards. There is in the very furniture an expectation of something you are not delivering. Your teaching evaluations will reflect this strain between the classroom structure and what you deliver. You can’t show up to a beach party in evening dress, or   to the theater in your bathing suit, you see.

We need to explode our classrooms and insist on space that is amenable to effective evidence-based teaching. Who would have thought that a simple room in a basement like Eads 016 would have such an impact on me?

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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