There is a classroom near the sociology offices on my campus that I have done my best to avoid over the years. This semester, though, I’m teaching in it again and remembering all of the reasons that I have avoided it. For me, classrooms are something that I only really consider when they cause me problems. In this particular classroom, students sit closely to each other in rows of tables and the room is much deeper than it is wide. The projector screen leaves only about 12 inches of white board visible while blinding me if I am not standing at one of the edges of the room. If I walk between the tables to the back of the room, students facing the front are unable to turn to see and hear me because of how close together they are.
Other than being annoyed by my classroom, my students in this class are not doing particularly well. This classroom was also the site of my problems with first-year students several years ago. In fact, thinking back on my worst classes, each of them was also in a less-than-optimal classroom. Cramped quarters make it easier for students to get distracted but they also make it more difficult for students to form groups and for me to move around the classroom to check in on students doing individual or group tasks. Classrooms arranged in other ways (such as rooms featuring a large number of small tables that students sit around) make it more difficult for all students to be able to see me at the same time and see and hear each other during class discussions. I’m sure that my own mood is also affected by being in a classroom where my mobility is limited or where I am worried that students cannot hear or see me.
In the end, there isn’t much I can do about my classroom this semester, but I hope that those designing classrooms in the future, or remodeling current classrooms, put some serious thought into how they will be used and what sorts of designs are actually conducive to student learning. Just because a classroom can accommodate a widescreen projection screen and large tables doesn’t mean that it should.