Friday, April 27, 2012

There's Got to be a Better Way

Here's a typical classroom layout in my building.  The student seating is either at those small, uncomfortable student desks with foldy desk parts or at bigger tables.  The tables are hard to move around, but give students more room for spreading out stuff, which is great for writing classes especially.  Even for lit classes, it's helpful to have room for notes and a text, and the little foldy desks are pretty tiny.  Our classes are usually packed.  We may have a few empty chairs, but few, so students are against both walls and all across (except for the walking space between big desks, which I've sort of indicated here.  (Think of the "student seating" as either indicating several longish desks in rows or lots of small foldy desks.)

Our building was built in the 60s, I think, and the powers that be have done a lot to update and improve classes within the structure that we have.  Since I've been here, we've added desks in some rooms, and also added computer stations, internet access, projectors which work with computers, document display, and a big screen so that you can see stuff from across the room.  The computer station is set up so that a person can stand at the computer and see the screen, which means it's about 3-4 feet tall with the monitor in place. 

All this technology is great in so many ways.  I regularly use the document display and computer stuff.

But except in very rare cases, I don't do powerpoints.  Instead, I write on the board.  I think writing on the board is better for some sorts of information.  It works better, for example, when you're asking students to contribute ideas and want to be open to their order of ideas and to ideas you hadn't thought of.  Yes, I could write on a small piece of paper and use the document display, but the board seems more natural to me (though natural is a crazy word to use for such an artificial environment). 

And now you grasp the problem: the red area indicates the board space that's really usable, that's not blocked from access by the huge screen, by student seating, or not blocked from view by the computer monitor.  (The classes that are more horizontally oriented have better board access, but a lot is still blocked.)

What I'd like to know is how your spaces work, and if you have the same problems or has someone figured out a better way to have all the computer and high tech stuff while still preserving access to board space?  And if you have, can you tell me what it looks like, please?


*Blogger will no longer let me change the size or location of inserted pictures.  Bleargh!


  1. Anonymous8:47 AM

    is there some kind of method that lets you write on the monitor? (we have these smart things in place of monitors that one can draw on using the attached stylus - I've taken to making blank powerpoint slides to have up when I need to "write on the board" because the lab in which I'm teaching only has an easel whiteboard that is a nightmare to clean) That might seem slightly less awkward than writing on paper and using the document camera?

  2. Our projector screens are directly in *front* of the whiteboard, although there is chalkboard space on either side. So basically, you can use one or the other, but not both at one time. (We do have one larger smart room where they are side by side, although the space is so cavernous that it comes with its own problems.)

  3. Isn't this familiar... I was part of a faculty group that investigated classroom design, and recommended new designs for all classrooms. Predictably, there are people who study this on a scholarly level. We developed a plan for a large classroom, with mods available for smaller rooms. Small, movable tables that seat 4 are great, particularly if they can be folded up and moved out of the way. They can be easily shifted to create rows (for lecture etc) or small OR large discussion/work groups. Movable chairs are obviously needed, and those cannot be welded to the tables. We put up white boards on three non-window walls - the screen blocks one portion of one board, but the white boards are nearly wall to wall, which really helps in working with partners, groups, whatever.

    It cost about 50K to redo the room - new large color TVs linked to the IT system - we can have three different screens up at once. New carpets, new tables, new chairs, rewiring the IT system, paint, white boards. Being able to easily move the tables is amazing - we can fold them up and roll them to one side in mere minutes.

    That room went from one of the most hated (long, narrow and cramped feeling) to the most fought-over. Faculty who are active-learning oriented love it. The old-timers who like lecturing don't really care, so we try to move them to a 'traditional' room.

  4. Anonymous3:45 PM

    Screens that can be raised or lowered in front of the whiteboards (two, with two projectors). If one simply wants to write on the board, raise them. If one wants to write on the board and display something, raise one, lower the other. One can even project a template onto the whiteboard (projector on, screen raised) and write on it.

  5. Oh, Belle, you break my heart! They did a large and expensive update to our building two years ago (literally gutted it and redid the whole interior). We did have faculty representatives on the committe that guided these changes, and what you list above is exactly what we asked for. Several of us specifically (and repeatedly) asked for the screens to *not* come directly down over the whiteboards. But when they reopened the building, guess what we got - better office space and an improved HVAC system for sure, but classrooms with little foldy desks and screens that block the whiteboard. Sigh.

  6. Our screens come down over the whiteboard, but there is usually a fair bit of room for writing. (And we have multiple screens, so even if the screen is off center, students can see a TV monitor type thing above the whiteboard. (And no, you can't choose which screens turn on, at least not as far as I know.)

    But oh, those terrible desks with little arms. I hated them as a student as I'm left handed, but there is no space for having a book out and a notebook. GRRRR.

  7. Anonymous7:17 AM

    I work at a secondary school, and my whiteboard is also my projection screen. I use a Mimio pad. You control the mouse and "write" on the pad using the stylus, and project it onto the screen. You can use the Mimio software to open blank pages, create simple slides ahead of time, or open a Powerpoint directly. Slides can also be saved for later discussions. In the software, you can change colors, pen size/style, draw shapes, highlight, import pictures, type text, etc. Best part is that I can walk around and use it, and not be stuck at the board during a discussion.

  8. Anonymous7:26 AM

    I would be so ecstatic if they removed all whiteboards and chalkboards from classrooms. You can NOT stay engaged with a group of people if you have to turn your back on them to write on a board. It's rude, disruptive and counter-productive. (Watch anyone else's class or a video of your own and see how long it takes to re-establish the connection after turning your back.) Professional presenters and lecturers learned this decades ago! It says a LOT about the educational system if they're still using outdated, unproductive methods.
    Educate and discipline yourself to use the technology you have right in front of you!

  9. Anon 7:26: I have to respectfully disagree. How can I have students put thesis statements up if there's nowhere to put them up? How can we make a list together? How can I put up multiple drawings?

    The key is to use technology to do the job you want to do, not to have the technology force you to do some other job.

    I've sat through far too many horrid powerpoint presentations to think that "professional presenters" have unique insight.