Introduction to TEL

Day 2: Reading the room

What do spaces tell us about the relationship between teaching and learning?

In Day 1, we briefly discussed the theoretical underpinnings of learning spaces. The importance of space and its configuration to learning is like headphones/speakers to the enjoyment of music – not forgetting that this is spatially situated as well – where a series of material and immaterial considerations contribute to the experiences of the activity.

Today’s post look more closely at the affordances of current learning spaces, asking: how do spaces affect the way we teach and learn?

The affordances of spaces

According to Monahan (2002), physical spaces and its configuration have the ability to embody cultural, psychological and behavioural attributes that shape teaching and learning. This is known as ‘built pedagogy’, which can be defined as:

“The belief that the physical classroom space is linked to and embodies specific pedagogical practices, and shapes student learning experiences and behaviour.” (Byers, Imms & Hartnell-Young, 2014, p. 7)

The teacher’s position in the learning space or environment, for example, is significant as the material site, where verbal and non-verbal content and resources are delivered and performed by the teacher, creates a predisposition, or an assumption, to the way we teach and learn (Lim, O’Halloran & Podlasov, 2012). Space and its elements within speak to us (telepathically!) as they are signs and symbols, albeit ones that are socially constructed, that we relate to. Think about it: why do we behave differently in pubs versus at libraries? Not simply because a librarian shushes us but because something in the environment, the orderliness or disorderliness of spatial objects, the lighting, the furniture, etc. prompt us to behave in a certain manner. This is no different in a learning space.

However, rather than ‘built pedagogy’, I suggest the use of the term ‘spatial pedagogy’ though as we are increasingly moving towards more flexible, constructionist and non-material (i.e. virtual) approaches to learning spaces that are not necessarily associated to a ‘built’ environment (see Lim et al., 2012).

How do different spaces affect the way we teach and learn?

In Day 1, you reflected on how each of the spaces shown to you may shape you teaching practice. So what are does the literature say about some of these spaces? Let’s investigate some of the more common learning spaces in detail below:

Large lecture theatres

An old lecture theatre at the University of Melbourne.

As a student, I remembered being in this exact lecture theatre: uncomfortable, ‘militantly’ structured and unyieldingly inflexible. Being a ‘rebel’ student and sitting right at the back, I could barely see the screen and much less the blackboard.

According to Byers et al. (2014) and Lim et al. (2012), traditional teaching spaces like lecture theatres are authoritative spaces where it is teacher-centric. The lecturer or teacher is often placed in a position where they are the centre of attention (e.g. at the front of the space) and is able to control and monitor all students who are seated in static and standard rows. However, while you may be able to see which students are present, the teacher is unable to discern if students are paying attention – particularly with the advent of mobile devices. There is also a lack of space for much movement by the teacher and more so by the students.

A newer lecture theatre at the University of Melbourne.

Implications of the space on teaching:

  • More didactic style of teaching where the dissemination of information becomes the primary activity
  • The lecturer or teacher as the authoritative figure in the space

Implications of the space on learning:

  • Encourages passive learning where the learner is a receiver of information
  • Students may also feel disempowered: They are immobile and sitting in cramp and sometimes uncomfortable seats surrounded by their peers while facing the authoritative figure – don’t be surprised if students are actively trying to avoid your eye line if you are teaching in these spaces!

Seminar Rooms and Tutorial Spaces

Hedley Bull “Harvard style” seminar room. ANU

Seminar rooms and tutorial spaces can take on many shapes, sizes and configurations. As you can see, some seminar rooms are tiered like lecture theatres while others maybe flat with moveable furniture. However, the spaces generally cater to a smaller cohort of students than lecture specific spaces, allowing for more intimate interactions. They are also ‘flatter’ even when tiered, and are more spacious to encourage movement, particularly by the teacher. Adapting Lim et al.’s (2012) concepts of learning spaces, seminar and tutorial rooms are a combination of authoritative, surveillance and interactional spaces. While you still have elements of an authoritative space with a lectern or teacher’s desk at the front of the space, the teacher can move away from being the centre of attention and mingle amongst the students. However, being the main moving entity, teachers are also able to supervise what students are doing – standing behind them or listening in on their conversations – and have better visibility of what is happening in class.

Implications of the space on teaching:

Small seminar room in A.D. Hope. ANU
  • More opportunities for personal engagement with students
  • Semi-didactic with possibility of integrating small group or pair work
  • Allow teachers to be in the authoritative, supervisory or facilitator role

Implications of the space on learning:

  • Expectation of more peer-to-teacher or peer-to-peer engagement – Moving between passive and active learning
  • Fear of being supervised
  • More empowered to direct their learning

question mark

Discussion question

What types of spaces do you commonly teach in? Is it a theatre, lab, field site, seminar room, or another space? What are the implications and affordances of your spaces on teaching, and on learning? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Some other examples of how learning spaces and their affordances are linked to pedagogical approaches, activities and principles can be found below.

Taken from a draft framework developed for the Department of Education and Training (Victoria) on Linking Pedagogy and Space (Fisher, 2005).

As you can see in this chart, there are a range of types of room configurations that can support approaches like active learning. We’ll discuss active learning spaces specifically in more detail in tomorrow’s post, but for now, let’s consider what happens when rooms and pedagogy do not align.

What happens in a mismatch of space to teaching practice?

We sometimes get timetabled into learning spaces that do not match our style of teaching. I remembered teaching four repeat flipped classroom seminars in four different venues – one of which a large lecture theatre for 30 students. Group work became evidently difficult and ineffective in this space and student experience decreased as they were confused – their expectations did not match the space we were in. What can you do?

During the course of writing this post, I learnt that beyond ‘active learning’, we need to  ‘activate learning’ (see Thomsen, 2015). While the learning space may not necessarily be designed for active learning, we can put in place certain activities to achieve a different outcome – and activate students’ learning experience. Below are some tips to help you deal with a mismatch with space and intended teaching practice:

  1. Be prepared: Understand and plan for the learning spaces you’ll be teaching in
  2. Know your objectives: Your teaching method and pedagogical approach should be aligned to the learning outcomes of your course
  3. Have a few tricks up your sleeve: Familiarise yourself with a few activities that can be used in various spaces – think-pair-share, one minute papers, speed dating/sharing, in-class polls are some activities that are easy to implement in different settings.
  4. Be flexible: Read the room!

While space can affect teaching practices, they do not necessarily change it – space, pedagogy and changes in practice are relational but not absolutes (see Mulcahy, Cleveland & Aberton, 2015). Should you modify your teaching to suit the space? Certainly, but at the end of the day, you need to weigh in on how much change is necessary based on learning outcomes, student expectations, the objectives of the course, etc.

question mark

Discussion questions

  • Reflect on the concept of ‘activating learning’ – do you think it is useful in helping you shape your teaching practice? Share some of the activities or experiences you may have had to activate your students’ learning.
  • Have you ever been scheduled to teach in a room that did not align with your teaching approach? What happened?


Byers, T. & Imms, W. & Hartnell-Young, E. (2014). Making the Case for Space: The Effect of Learning Spaces on Teaching and Learning. Curriculum and Teaching, 29 (1), pp. 5 – 19.

Fisher, K. (2005). Linking Pedagogy and Space: Proposed Planning Principles. Department of Education and Training, Victoria, available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2019].

Lim, F.V., O’Halloran, K.L. & Podlasov, A. (2012). Spatial pedagogy: Mapping Meanings in the Use of Classroom Space. Cambridge Journal of Education, 42 (2), pp. 235-251.

Mohanan, T. (2002). Flexible Space & Built Pedagogy: emerging IT embodiments. Inventio, 4(1), pp. 1-19.

Mulcahy, D., Cleveland, B. & Aberton, H. (2015). Learning spaces and pedagogic change: envisioned, enacted and experienced. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 2015, 23 (4), pp. 575 – 595.

Thomsen, L.H. (2015). Tips for student-activating teaching. Medium, available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2019].


34 thoughts on “Day 2: Reading the room

  1. I commonly teach in flexible flat seminar/tutorial rooms, as the implications and affordances align with my pedagogy. I find these rooms ideal for creating and communicating activities, as they encourage interactivity, and position me as a facilitator rather than an authoritative figure.

    Without previously knowing the term, I plan all of my lessons with activated learning in mind. The key, for me, is flexibility. I activate learning every time I manipulate a room’s configuration, plan or tweak a learning activity, or go off-script in response to real-time student feedback. As a result, teaching in the “wrong” learning space, while less than ideal, has never really posed a significant problem. If a room is too small, I encourage breakout groups to go outside the classroom. If it is too big, I corral students for plenary sessions and enjoy the freedom of space (such a valuable commodity) for small-group work. Tiered room with fixed desks? Turn chairs around and form groups. Where there is a will, there is a way.

      1. Hi Tom,

        Not really. For better or worse, I can be quite emphatic on that point 🙂

        I am intrigued by your take on the Harvard-style rooms. From both teacher and student perspectives, I found it much more liberating than the traditional front-facing rows. Perhaps I just haven’t experienced an interrogation in the Harvard configuration yet.

        I usually refresh before posting to avoid the CAPTCHA glitch.

    1. Hi Bhavani, that’s great! I certainly think that being flexible and responsive to student feedback are key to activating learning. Many activities can be easily tweaked (e.g. from think-pair-share to polling or small group discussions) to suit the learning space as long as your intentions and learning outcomes are clear. In the end, while spaces can limit certain types of activities (e.g. like if you are in lecture theatre but want to do a lineup or speed dating activity), it doesn’t necessarily limit your creativity or reduce interaction! Thank you!

    2. Hi Bhavani,
      “Where there is a will, there is a way”, I like that attitude! Taking on a facilitator role, have you experienced challenges teaching in a tiered lecture theatre? I’ve only had to deal with it once for a very small class with only one student! So I could easily relocate the class to a spare meeting room, but I imagine it would be difficult to encourage group work in that environment where I can’t easily go around to monitor their progress (depending on how tightly the rows are arranged going up the tiers). There are also lecture theatres where the chairs are fixed so getting students to turn around might be met with some resistance. I wondering if you have thought about these scenarios and have any ideas on how to still activate learning? Think pair and share, and voting have been mentioned by Thomsen (2015), but I’m curious as to what other techniques other have tried that may or may not have worked 🙂

      1. Hi Jen,

        My first large-group facilitative role (as a life coach) was in straight-line lecture theatres. Being thrown in the deep end forced me to just make it work. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate how much easier almost any other configuration is. I guess, going back to Day 1, this is why I prefer the U-shape if it has to be a theatre. The increased opportunities for interaction enhance facilitation. I have been fortunate in that, when “stuck” in a traditional threatre, it has always had a greater capacity than my class size. Despite the inherent rigidity of the room, this at least gave students (and myself) a bit of space to manoeuvre.

        In a fixed-chair environment, I encourage students who are turning around to sit on their desks, stand, do whatever it takes to be comfortable. In order to challenge the mind, we, as facilitators and educators, need to provide a safe and comfortable environment. You can’t please everyone, but people usually find a way to make the most of a bad situation.

        1. Hi Jen & Bhavani, I just wanted to share a little observation from a session I just did in a room where the tables & chairs had students facing each other, rather than the front/screen/facilitator. I noticed that the participants immediately started talking to each other even when asked to do individual work, and when they were engaged in discussion at their tables it was sometimes quite difficult to bring their attention back to the front! The layout of the space encouraged them to focus on each other rather than me as the facilitator. It was very enlightening!

          1. Hi Katie,

            Thanks for the observation. Sounds like we are doomed to constantly try and find the balance in learning, despite the “balance” always changing.

          2. Hi Bhavani and Katie,

            That’s so interesting how big a difference a room can make. Glad that we get to focus on it in this course as it is often a side note rather than something we really discuss. I’ve often been frustrated at the inability to change room configurations (even if there was flexibility to do so, I was often given a lesson plan and expected to stick to a schedule, not allowing time to move things around). I remember trying to change the layout of the room before a tute, only to have my convenor swing the door open and announce to all the students to be seated. I felt like it kind of threw off the rest of my class. This was all after having a discussion with the convenor about my plans to move the furniture, which they had approved! Anyways, my point is it is so nice to make this a focal point rather than dismiss it for a change 🙂

  2. I mostly teach online. There have been attempts to make online learning more real with 2d and 3d depictions of a physical room, with student’s avatars behind virtual desks, but I did not find these useful.

    I give guest lectures in ANU’s lecture theaters, and tutor in smaller rooms. Some of the steeply ranked lecture theaters induce vertigo. This adds to the usual panic of giving a lecture. The flat floor seminar rooms and better, as they are smaller I can see and hear the students, and don’t feel dizzy.

    The implications of a large curved lecture theater is that the students are there to listen to, and see, the lecturer, not each other. I have stood in ancient amphitheaters in Greece, and they are much the same design, with a speaker able to be heard by a large crowd with the sound carried by the shape of the structure.

    The Harvard style room suggests to me the students trapped in their seats, with the instructor able to walk right up to interrogate, and humiliate, them. It is not a design I like.

    The flat floor room implies equality to me, with students able to be seen and heard.

    Activating learning seems a tautology to me: if you are not engaged, you are not learning. I dislike the use of tricks to try to make classrooms “fun”. To activate my students’ learning I design courses top down: starting with the learning objectives, then assessment tasks, and lastly learning activities. My aim is to make it clear to the student how the learning helps with the assessment, how that assessment relates to the learning objectives, and the learning objective will help them with a real world task.

    I spent ten years lecturing in uncomfortable vertigo inducing lecture theaters, to students who could not see how what I was telling them was any use to to them. One day I suddenly decided to stop lecturing. I started looking for a better classroom design, and learned to teach online, until these were built.

    ps: In anyone else getting CAPTCHA Code errors?

    1. Hi Tom, we’ll be talking about online learning spaces in the next few days but I’m interested in what you said at the beginning. This idea of replicating a physical classroom with avatars prompts me to think about the authenticity of spaces, offline or online. I wonder if anyone has a similar or different perspective on this!

      I agree with your comment on about making classes “fun” as well; activities need to be relevant and related to clear learning objectives. I don’t think ‘activating learning’ disagrees with the fact that learning is an active process but rather, aims at getting people to think about how we can maximise engagement for learning. Thanks Tom!

  3. I have the opportunity to interact with one of the lecturer that adamantly require a teaching space that have a high ceiling in the front of the class. The shape of the venue does not matter as that person’s view “I can make it work”.

    The main intention here is to present the students with a live experiment (hence in the need of ceiling space) that is related to the course and at the same time introduce a mystery to what would be delivered next week. This in turn entice the students to keep attending the lecture as to unravel the mystery and (hopefully) learn during the process.

    It is a major challenge to fit teaching delivery to the type of venues considering venue availability while still having the flexibility to change on a whim to match the content of the course, on top of considering how the students really want to be taught to absorb that information.

    With the availability of flexible spaces, this will answer part of the problem, which still leave the style of delivery that will enhance the student’s interaction and learning process

    1. Hi Yusuf,

      That’s interesting! I’ve never heard from a request for a high ceiling before, although this reminds me of Walter Lewin’s lecture where he experiments with a pendulum:
      I think there is a full length video as well where he talks about his dedication to teaching and how he would come into the lecture theatre early in the morning to do a practice run before the actual class.

      1. Hi Jen,

        Interesting video, power of physics.
        Well, it will be interesting to see what other thing he might come up with for his classes.

        It will be intriguing to see how much more teaching can be enhanced with the introduction of more flexible teaching space within the university, would this enrich the student’s confidence during the process or would the experience instead hinder the course delivery?

  4. (Pre PS – thanks Tom for the tip about copying my post so I didn’t have to retype it after the CAPTCHA error.)

    I think the concept of “activating learning” will be very helpful to me in the process of preparing the class: I want to be student-focused in my teaching preparation, as my ultimate goal is the learnings and memories the students take away; but as I grapple with the content in preparing the lesson, my focus is inclined to slip to a content focus — *what* needs to be delivered, squeezing in the optimal material — or a teacher focus — how will *I* deliver these materials; if “activating learning” is one of the tasks I need to include in this phase, it will push me back to consider all the more-and-less subtle factors impacting students’ participation in the class and the opportunities for them to create and keep the memories and realisations I’m hoping to expose them to.

    In terms of teaching rooms that did not align with my approach, I feel my personal observations underline the importance of considering the more subtle elements, as well as the blurring between the physical and technological or virtual elements — the TL;DR version follows.

    Recently I most often teach (facilitate) in a good size room that has a number of ‘pods’ with a handful of desktops machines each, arranged to face a projection. There has been some great thought gone into designing this room. Students can: listen to the teacher, watch the projection, work on their own device (provided or BYOD), work in pairs (e.g. sharing a computer), work with the whole group at their pod, or wheel their chairs around to create other groupings within the room. The computers are housed under the tables to clear desk space and the monitors are mounted on arms so students can arrange themselves around the pods without anyone having their back to the projection and can easily re-angle their screens to work in 2s or 3s.

    However, at the risk of having a whinge:
    – The resolution and contrast on the projection is so low that I frequently can’t demonstrate the point I’m trying to make
    – the lecturer space (set up point) is built into the corner of the room, so if I’m not careful I can find myself trying to operate the projection with my back to the class, hoping my voice is bouncing adequately off the wall. In some other similar rooms, there is a lectern facing the class, but it also is sequestered away in the front corner, where I can’t see the projection and it is awkward (too many steps) to transition between operating the machine and roaming the class.
    – a combination of poor lighting and unfamiliar/aged keyboard at the set-up point adds to difficulty getting my password correct during the class
    – the computers can take several minutes to login, losing valuable minutes of class time, especially for students who come in late
    – the monitors on arms make it difficult for students to see each other for a conversation
    – the combination of monitors, their arms and the keyboards, leaves inadequate space on the desks for some groupwork activities
    – the computers mounted under the desks tend to be inadvertently kicked and kneed by students — it’s not uncommon for me to be on all fours, under the desk, reconnecting dislodged plugs
    – several of the wheeled chairs have been wheeled away by students, sometimes replaced by static chairs or stools that can’t be rearranged as required, or creating a physically uncomfortable, un-ergonomic seat for the student
    – not the fault of the room, but also to mention as they have a similar effect:
    — a normally stable facility having unexpected downtime just on the day you need to demonstrate it (anecdotes abound!)
    — awkward user interfaces in online tools, adding too much to the cognitive load involved in using them

    To my observation, issues like these where the venue and/or technology adds stress or undermines the teacher in someway, add negatively to the “telepathic” elements mentioned above, exacerbating resistance (or even resentment) students may bring to the subject, reducing their confidence in the situation and impacting their tendancy to engage and learn at that time. The four tips given above are great and can counter many of the individual grievances I’ve raised, but each one adds a little to the lecturer’s load, or deviates a little from their designed learning experience. I’ve known situations where the aggregated affect of small difficulties eventually disables the pedagogy. My point is: many seemingly trivial issues, both physical and virtual, add up to having significant pedagogical impact, so we need to be able to design and adapt our spatial and online environments to address them.

    1. Hi Jenny,

      Just wanted to say that I agree! All the little things add up and that’s why it’s so important to pay attention to detail in designing learning spaces!

  5. I enjoy teaching Drama in open plan learning spaces because this allows for working in small groups, much like the “creating” and “communicating” configurations in the table provided.

    That said, is there anyone else who, like me, enjoys attending lectures in the kind of top down, teacher focused spaces depicted? Sometimes as a student I like learning passively and in a really focused space….

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      You’re not alone! I too enjoy passively learning in a lecture, but only when the lecturer comes well prepared with engaging material and has clearly thought about the thinking processes that go on in learning the concepts being presented. I really appreciate it when lecturers adequately scaffold the learning so that I’m not suddenly left confused and then unable to catch up for the rest of the lecture… but having said all this, my philosophy of teaching is definitely not aligned with one of transmission as I think a student-centred approach leads to deeper learning. However, I get asked a lot in workshops how we can “fit” all the content in if we do small-group learning where students can go at their own pace, and I think technology can really aid in this domain. For example, I would rather watch a few short concisely made 5 minute video than sit through a 1 hour of a lecture where there is a lot of um and ahing, long pauses, or time spent by the lecturer scribbling on the board or projector. I’m more keen to go to tutorials to learn by doing. What are your thoughts on this? Do you like traditional lectures or are there other ways you can learn passively or a combination of passive and active learning that you think works?

      1. Oh yes, so for instance one time I had prepared scenes for the class to work on in groups of 3-5 people. The task involved analysing the characters in the scenes using some questions I provided, then reading and rehearsing the scene allocated before performing in front of the class. The room we were in was too small for the planned group division so instead we workshops one scene as a class. I had the class vote on which scene to analyse and they did some of the analysis/discussion in small groups. We then staged the scene with 5 volunteer actors and me directing with audience (rest of class) input.

      2. Hmmmm…. interesting. I really like traditional lectures in my area of English Literature / Drama, when, as you say, they are well prepared. I like that in the space of a lecture, the teacher can present a sustained argument or analysis (which is a bit like what we have to do in a published research article). However I also like it when a lecturer is able to answer student questions as part of this lecture and respond to the students present….
        That said, in my own teaching I use one hour lectures, one hour tutes and two hour creative workshops to offer a range of learning experiences. I would say that in workshops, which usually involve acting exercises and textual analysis of plays, a lot of the learning is active and student driven.

        1. Hi Rebecca,

          That’s awesome that you’re finding that active learning is taking place in your workshops 🙂
          I agree that one of the biggest challenges of traditional lectures is getting student feedback so I think that if there is a shift to moving things online (e.g. through short videos), there needs to be an interactive element, either through intermittent quizzes that provide automated feedback, or something that involves teacher-student interactions or student-student interactions. Good design is so important 🙂

    2. Attending a tiered down lecture hall is a SPECIAL event for me.

      But I recall that, as a student, I had so many lecturers in these types of halls, that they became ho-hum. So sometimes I wonder if the best thing to strive for as a university is a diversity of delivery modes.

      1. Hi Edie,

        I think I know what you mean! Although there were so many lectures, some of them have left a mark and its always those really well prepared lectures with good scaffolding 🙂 As for diversity of delivery modes, I agree there should be a variety of modes to suit different learning styles but I am also a firm believer that however you run a class, it should be aligned with your learning objectives/goals… that is, be constructively aligned. Only then are the classes planned purposefully. Not saying that we necessarily always achieve our lesson goals but it’s certainly better than taking a shot in the dark, or trial and error so to speak 🙂 at least in my opinion anyways but curious to see what others think 🙂

  6. In regards to experience of misalignment of space with type of teaching, yes, I have definitely experienced this, mostly when rooms have furniture that is not easily moved and I want the class to do something creative. Typically I have tried to adapt in these situations, either by scaling back the activity, or using break out spaces.

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Thanks for sharing. It can be so frustrating eh? Do you have an example of a specific activity that you’ve adapted because of an ill-suited space? E.g. what do you mean by scaling back or using break out spaces? What were you trying to achieve and did you think you did that with a particular strategy? I’m just curious to hear what worked/didn’t work for you 🙂

      1. Oh yes, so for instance one time I had prepared scenes for the class to work on in groups of 3-5 people. The task involved analysing the characters in the scenes using some questions I provided, then reading and rehearsing the scene allocated before performing in front of the class. The room we were in was too small for the planned group division so instead we workshops one scene as a class. I had the class vote on which scene to analyse and they did some of the analysis/discussion in small groups. We then staged the scene with 5 volunteer actors and me directing with audience (rest of class) input.

  7. I typically end up in a traditional lecture style venue for the big classes (150+) and must admit defaulting to “delivering”. This poses challenges especially last semester when I was scheduled in a large theatre with seats but no writing surface when the class size shot up to 140 students. So lots of students trying to understanding basic concepts but no surfaces to work on just was not going to work. I took a lot of the writing out and integrated more small group discussion that I summarise so that the students didn’t have to write.
    Given that my course calls for a bit of decision making, I am excited to try out the Kambri spaces that is currently configured to suit – wait for it, decision making! I am hoping to integrate some activities that encourages creativity within a decision making approach and the table showing the links between spatial settings with pedagogical approaches is very helpful.

    1. Rebecca Tan, I agree the table showing the links between spatial settings with pedagogical approaches is very helpful. I can see myself using this when lesson planning in future.

  8. As I often do guest Lego Serious Play events for my colleagues, misaligned venues are just part of the party. Particularly when your plan involves 60 students, each with a small tin of lego (49 pieces), working in groups of 4, in a strata theatre with those little lapdesks that fold down if you breathe in/out awkwardly… and you’re trying to get students to wrangle lose lego pieces, then lean forward to hear each other and… yeah.

    There was also the year that I designed an interactive forum style flipped classroom experience…that got so far over subscribed I went from a flattrack with movable desks into HA Tank – and the transfer was notifed on the day the classes started, so I’d prepared for an event in one venue, only to get a completely different venue with very short notice.

    Following that though, I went into using Eventbrite booking systems so students had to reserve a free ticket for the class – apparently I’m not allowed to do that anymore though, so we’re back to the ANU Timetable mythical 110% enrolment capacity attendance event.

  9. I am a bit perplexed why institutions insist on installing whiteboards then having a projector screen come down in front of it (which may keep wobbling throughout the session). Why not just project straight onto the whiteboard or wall? When I was teaching, I much preferred projecting straight onto the whiteboard as I could demonstrate how to edit work with whiteboard markers. I loved to show how to turn statements into questions then got my students to convert further statements then explain their process to the class. Students often took photos of the final boards to review later. This was much cheaper than a smartboard and also meant I didn’t have to ‘reorient’ it every day as smartboards are so notorious for losing their alignment.

    Some of my favourite activating learning methods include: playing boardgames I created to practise what we were studying; students examining unusual pictures to come up with their own reports, instructions and stories; and acting out scenarios.

  10. The concept of “activating learning” reinforces the importance of selecting activities that are: appropriate to the learning space; provide a measurable and applicable outcome for students; enablers to maintaining learner engagement, motivation and focus. The attention retention curve diagram is an accurate reflection of the peaks and troughs of participant engagement (I see myself in it!) and is a good tool to explain when and why to introduce activities that keep learners reflecting and relating to questions posed. In one-shot information literacy instruction, one of the best ways I have found to keep attention and understanding is short activities that build upon each. In the main, bite sized activities seem to boost engagement and motivation because the work done in each successive activity feeds directly into the effectiveness or efficiency of the next and the final outcome. A very basic example of this is topic analysis, keyword brainstorming and the application of Boolean operators to build targeted search strings which can then be evaluated and refined for effectiveness and applied across multiple databases. For example, I try to incentivise engagement (activate learning) in a paired brainstorming activity by explaining that refined, planned search strings yield highly relevant literature searches in a quicker timeframe.

    Yes, I have experienced teaching in a room that did not align with my teaching approach. The room was cavernous, echoey and the projector screen image was washed out. Despite a table being located in the centre of the room, the group of students opted to sit around the edge of the room on the floor. In short, the first time this happened, I lost the group completely as I didn’t have something up my sleeve to counteract the challenges of the tech, the space, or to adapt to the students preferred learning style. In hindsight, I would have moved the students into groups of 2-3 and posed a series of questions for each group to answer through peer to peer instruction and collaboration, and then report back to the larger group. This way, with their own devices, students could have explored the resources and databases in the way they felt comfortable, then evaluated the outcomes and pitfalls for themselves. I would then have been free to move from group to group to answer questions as they came up and act as a guide on the side. The other thing I thought of afterwards was to use the post-it notes I brought for a one minute paper as a voting slip for students to choose which databases we would focus on + anonymous questions. It was actually an uncomfortable but great learning experience for me!

  11. It really enjoyed this post. Reflecting back on classes that I taught, I feel that there certainly is a correlation. As Bhavani and others have indicated, a teacher who wants to engage their students will find ways to manipulate a room – i.e. they will try to ‘activate learning’ (I really like that expression! Very well-put!) But there is only so much you can do… I have found that I can be really sensitive to bad acoustics. I would get head-achy and less focused after a while. And I just don’t know how to work around that. You can take your students out into the hallway or elsewhere for a little while, but not for a whole class…

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