Space, Tools and Voice: effective classroom practice

Teaching quality interventions are always a challenge for an Academic Developer, walking a thin line between sanction and support, between reassurance and patronizing. Yesterday I ran a small workshop with new classroom tutors teaching Statistics. The challenges of teaching a dozen international students new statistical concepts at 5pm on a wet windy Friday evening in London needs little unpacking.
I sought to provide some tools for staff to think about their role, to reflect on how they might meet discipline goals. We focussed not on ‘tips and tricks’ but on the fundamentals of space and voice, and how to develop engagement with both.
We explored some classroom layouts, including the one we were in, and identified the social conventions of space that determine the learning and teaching styles that are adopted. It’s a nice activity which prompts participants to identify three different disciplines being taught in three layouts illustrated when in fact all three real examples are from the same course on the same day. It prompts the question ‘am I using this learning space effectively or does it constrain, and indeed determine, how I teach?’
The tools available in the space, projector, whiteboard, PowerPoint, Prezi, etc were then discussed in relationship to this space. One of the questions I like to ask is how would you teach if the familiar tools fail you (in this case, the decorators say have removed the whiteboards). On this occasion I was walking the talk because my PowerPoint presentation had no means of being projected on rhe day and I had rearranged the seating to be able to run the session differently. Useful demonstration however unwelcome! It was a nice exploration of the nature of the whiteboard as a ‘canvas’. I suggested students might be encouraged to photograph the whiteboard (the mobile phonecam being almost ubiquitous) to support the idea that this was a group creative process which rewarded engagement not simple the instruction from the board.
We then explored , with some amusing examples, the nature of the English language as a stressed language and the relationship, interplay, between intonation and connotation. This is always fun, not least because I get to remind myself why I never went into acting!
This combination of being more spatially aware, of using the tools with engagement as the intent not information delivery, and of simple appreciating the power of the human voice, will hopefully develop confidence and a sense of each tutors’ unique abilities to communicate.
It was a fun session to run and one I hope I get to run again soon and I would love to run it overseas too.

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