How Do the Spaces of Our Classrooms Shape Our Teaching?



This post and podcast are part of our Hallway Conversations series, featuring discussions between Gene Roche, Director of Academic Information Services, and W&M faculty from across the College.

For this edition of Hallway Conversations, Gene Roche sat down with Arthur Knight, Professor of American Studies and English, to talk about Arthur’s new role as Faculty Facilities Coordinator at the College. Arthur is the first person to hold this new position in which, as he puts it, he “serves at the pleasure of the Arts and Sciences Dean” to be a more permanent liaison between facilities management and faculty. This position came about in order to improve communication between faculty and facilities management, so that faculty input could improve College classrooms. Arthur’s interest in architecture and the effects spaces have on the people in them make him a great fit for the role.

As the representative of Arts and Sciences faculty, Arthur’s new position challenges him to think about how facility and classroom design shapes learning, and what effects architectural decisions have on teaching. Consider one of Gene’s examples of this: class sizes in the social sciences at W&M are 35-42 students not because it’s necessarily the best size for learning, but because that’s how many seats there are in the classrooms of Morton Hall. At some point, someone made that decision, and it’s something that the rest of us have lived and shaped our teaching around for the past 50 years.

As the Faculty Facilities Coordinator, Arthur’s decisions today will be those things that the next generation will need to live with for the next 50 years, which is especially pertinent in this moment of rapid transformation for higher education. Technology has never changed so quickly than it is changing now, so how do we make decisions that will affect how W&M faculty and students will use those spaces in five, ten, or even fifty years?

To hear more about the process that goes into planning the teaching and learning spaces at W&M, listen to the podcast: [audio:]

Or download the mp3 file.

What works well right now in W&M classrooms? What kinds of improvements would help improve student learning in the classrooms you’ve used? Let us know the comments!

About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.