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Peer-Driven Learning: Place and Space
January 21, 2013 - 8:45pm

I am really excited this semester because I am teaching three sections of my peer-driven learning course. The one elements that I haven't quite yet figured out is *where* to do my course, what physical classroom space works best for this type of learning experience/experiment.

This semester, I asked to have my classes take place in a computer lab. The reasoning behind this is that it allows students easy and ready access to the hardware and software they may need to build their projects. Unfortunately, the room itself is large, the computers spread far apart, and the monitors are quite large; all of these elements are making it difficult during the first few classes to break the traditional student-teacher dynamic or form any sort of community.

I always allow the students (once we have selected the format and direction of the class) to go and find the places and spaces that work best for them. Sometimes students used our (traditional) classroom space to meet and discuss, while others choose to meet at the library, computer lab, or even more open, social spaces, like the student center. While it was still nice outside, one group last semester chose to meet outside to read and ponder the mysteries of human nature.

The challenge, however, is how to use the traditional spaces during the first few classes; we all very easily fall into the very traditional roles we are used to fulfilling. And perhaps, even though I have embraced letting go of my assumed role as the "sage on the stage", I haven't completed the transition; I still insist on facilitating the first few weeks from the front of the classroom, recording and provoking from a position of relative authority.

My reasoning is that because I am proposing something so radical, I need to reassure them with some formulation that they are familiar with. But I might just be delaying the true peer-driven, community learning experience by recreating the traditional classroom setting for the first few weeks. Having said that, place and space are two difficult problems on a college campus: I need to hold the class somewhere and if I want to allow the students to feel safe in this experiment, it can't really be a public space, either. So I am limited to holding a class in either a poorly designed classroom space or a poorly designed computer lab space. I also can't request multiple spaces: I get one classroom or lab, but not both.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from my peer-driven class last semester. We always spend the last few weeks of our time together working on our final "required" essay. When we were deciding on how we were going to approach the writing process, we decided to spend one class in the library. Our library recently renovated the main floor, and there is now a great space for meeting, collaborating, and (noisily) working. So we met there. The plan was to return to the classroom for peer-review and one-on-one conferencing, but the students decided that they preferred the library space. We sat around in comfortable chairs and conferred, shared, vented, and just generally helped one another in the research and writing process. I was just one more voice in the learning community we had formed.

Maybe next time, we should just get it over with and head to the library.

 

 

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