Visiting campus auditoriums — in person or via smartphone photo — helps in assessing an auditorium’s potential

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A room assignment, a campus map and a smartphone were the ingredients for a fun teaching activity in my Mass Communication Teaching.

The students in the course are hoping to attain college teaching positions when they graduate. Many are teaching assistants in the College of Journalism and Communications. Every week we take on issues related to more effective teaching and learning.

One of the topics for the day’s lesson was a discussion of how the classroom one teaches in affects the teaching and learning experience. It was evident in the discussion that many of the students had not considered the impact of facilities on one’s teaching.

First, I asked the class to write a list the qualities that are part of the classroom environment. I prompted them to look around our classroom as they developed their lists. Then we discussed the factors they had listed:

  • Seating arrangement – Do the chairs move or are they fixed to the floor?
  • Lighting in the room – Is the room well lighted? Is there progressive lighting? (Progressive lighting means that sections of the lights can be turned off rather than all the lights. Such lighting is helpful when using a video projection unit.)
  • Sound – Is the room quiet or are there notable noises, such as a loud air conditioner, a noisy parking lot or loud hallway?
  • Acoustics – Would a teacher be able to project his/her voice and be heard or would a mic be necessary? Would students be able to hear each other during a class discussion?
  • Audio-visual equipment – Does the room have a computer and video projection unit?
  • Room temperature – Is the room so warm or so cold that it is uncomfortable?

Next, armed with the list of room-assessment criteria we’d just developed, they divided into teams, with each team having at least one team member with a smartphone. I assigned each team to visit one of the auditoriums that I have taught in on the UF campus. (I assigned only five of the eleven auditoriums I’ve taught in at UF, as three of the ten have the same floor plan and equipment and the other three auditoriums each was almost a half mile from our classroom and would have taken too long for the team to walk to and get back for our debriefing activity.)

The mission was to find the classroom, assess the room in terms of our room criteria, and then take a photo of the classroom from the back (so we could see the front of the auditoriumwith the smartphone and e-mail the photo to me.

We timed our classroom visits to be during the 15-minute break between classes. Within about 20 minutes, all the students were back, and I had already received and opened their photos that they’d sent to my e-mail.

Once they returned, each team was asked to rate the auditorium on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent and 1 being very poor.

Each team told the class about the classroom they visited, and I used the video projection unit to show the smartphone photo of the auditorium. The team justified their rating of the auditorium and talked about how they would feel about teaching in that room. They noted that every auditorium had a computer and video projection unit. But the auditoriums ranged greatly on how the room would contribute to or detract from teaching and learning. Key issues were the acoustics of the classroom and the lighting. Several had been students in one of the auditoriums and could share their experiences.

Some new topics entered the discussion:

  • The desks had too small desktops for having adequate space for a notebook or laptop.
  • Two of the auditoriums had fliptop desks that had very few designed for left-handed students.
  • The desks were uncomfortable.
  • Two of the auditoriums had tile floors and were noisy.
  • None of the auditoriums had windows.
  • Some of the auditoriums were at some distance from our homebase building. How would that affect materials that you would carry to class and your walk to class during one of our Florida thunderstorms?

As faculty we typically do not have control over the classrooms we are assigned to teach in. So if we are assigned to a less-than-desirable classroom, we have to work through the room’s problems (as much as possible) so that the room doesn’t become a problem for our teaching. An important part of that is being able to analyze a room and then figure out how to make adjustments — from using a microphone to increasing the point size of our PowerPoint to reminding students to bring a sweater or jacket to class. I’ve even taken my own can of WD-40 to oil squeaky desks and auditorium doors.

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