The importance of space

The beginning of a new year invites reflection, and especially so when that date coincides with an important deadline. Oh yes, deadlines for the submission of module handbooks for the forthcoming semester are looming!
I like the process of working through my handbooks, and try to make them as comprehensive a guide to my modules as I can. This often leads to the production of quite substantial handbooks, with lots of pages devoted to setting out the rules (a bit like a board game, really; in order to get most out of the game, you should really read the rules, but few people ever do until halfway through the game and stuck. Hmm, I see another blog on the parallels between a board game and teaching coming on, but I digress!), and even more pages devoted to the sessions that make up the module. For my modules, the distinction between lectures and seminars is crucial, and I will devote substantially more space to outlining seminars and reading than is given over to lectures. My seminars often don’t look like ‘seminars’ to students, and have been known to comprise anything from making paper clothes for dolls to writing Renaissance Lonely Hearts columns. But, we get lots of thinking done and often have a laugh into the bargain.
Here comes the crux of the matter though and that is space. Not all space is equal, and this holds nowhere more true, I suggest, than in teaching. What if I want a seminar to involve a discussion? I need to be able to change the seating to facilitate this; students sitting in rows behind each other won’t talk. What if I want to create a multi- sensory experience? I need to be able to project images at the same time as play music. So, space matters in often quite unexpected ways, as good teaching and learning is all about interaction. After all, even the best words are silent until they are either read or spoken out loud; even the most breathtaking art work needs to be seen in order to evoke a reaction and silent music well, that doesn’t work either.
So, note to self, check that my spaces work.
And then there is something I am very much looking forward to, and that is teaching in a different space. At Easter, I am off to Rome with a group of Undergraduates, teaching and exploring in situ. Watch this space…..

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