October 28, 2012

Reflections on open–space teaching and learning part 2

The small zones worked well for the purposes of screening the stimuli and for preparing the presentations; each group had its own dedicated work space (a single table and a number of movable chairs were also provided for each group) over which it took ownership. The space allowed me to move around between groups and to provide technical assistance with the IWBs and the iPads and to offer some additional questioning where appropriate to prompt further discussion. Students were allocated just 20 minutes to watch their film clips and prepare their presentations– a tight timeframe owing to the back-to-back seminars, which on reflection was too restrictive to allow really thorough discussion. Nevertheless, the open space offered students the opportunity to discuss their interest group in an environment beyond the traditional seminar room—they were very much freed from the confines of their desks. Theorists of open-space teaching and learning, such as the team at Warwick’s Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, note that open-space learning is transitional–while it takes place between clearly defined spaces (in this case in each ‘zone’), it is nevertheless constantly forming and re-forming.[1] Certainly the group discussion zones allowed students to continually form and re-form their attitudes towards their interest group, with no pressure to conform to a ‘right’ answer imposed by the presence of a teacher. With no physical space for me as a teacher, I moved between the spaces ‘owned’ by the small groups, which I felt successfully broke down any teacher-student barrier.

Although the timeframe was very tight, students appeared to enjoy the opportunity to watch the visual stimuli and to discuss the topic together in their zones. It was also apparent that they took ownership over their given interest group. The movable chairs in the ETS allowed groups to move between one zone and another, with each group presenting their interest group in their zone, using Smart Notebook. It was clear from the enthusiasm with which students presented their interest group and noted important points from the other presentations, that the open-space and use of film as stimuli had proved an exciting combination. Through employing the ‘student-as-producer’/ ‘student-as-teacher’ model, my hope is that students will retain a thorough knowledge of their own interest group and indeed, thanks to the group presentations, the other important interest groups, which will be of use ahead of formative and summative assessment on the module. The flexible space and the technology available also allowed students to develop their transferrable skills, notably team working and communication skills, in an environment without the traditional pressures of a typical seminar room full of classroom tables and chairs.

I certainly found that the open-space environment broke down student-teacher barriers, enabling me to circulate freely between the spaces occupied by the small groups. If I was to employ the same seminar again, I would consider extending the time limit on group discussion and viewing of the stimuli and aim to develop my understanding of the capabilities of IWBs beyond data projection and Smart Notebook. I have since uploaded screen shots of the group presentations to the module blog, which will provide students with some concrete points for the purposes of revision, allowing them to retain more key information. The combination of teaching models–open-space learning, student-as-researcher and student-as-teacher appeared to work well with an especially controversial and difficult subject matter, bringing students closer to an event—the Algerian War—from which the majority of the module’s students are far removed.

[1] Nicholas Monk, Carol Chillington-Rutter, Jonathan Neelands and Jonathan Heron, Open-Space Learning: A Study in Transdisciplinary Pedagogy (London: Bloomsbury, 2011)

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