Some Classroom Types
Assuming that we have for our language class a technology enhanced or “smart” classroom. What would it typically look like? Of the various types of smart classrooms, the most common ones are the following:
The Medium-Sized Classroom
The Small Classroom
The Lecture Classroom
The Seminar Room
The Lab Room
Which of these would you rather not have as your classroom? Which would be the ideal? Why?
In all “smart” classrooms, we have a console that allows us to control the technology.
The console typically has a control panel through which the instructor manipulates the equipment and the lights; a computer screen and keyboard/mouse; a computer and/or a cable that allows the instructor to use her own laptop; and a document camera that allows the instructor to project images from a book or any other non-electronic source.
If you had to choose between a document camera and a computer, which would you prefer?
The Technology Classroom
“ More and more we’re being asked to live with technology that is technically reliable, because it is created to fit our knowledge of the physical world, but that is so complex or so counterintuitive that it’s actually unusable by most human beings. ”
-Kim Vicente, The Human Factor:
Revolutionizing The Way People Live with Technology, p.17
What would make the “smart” classroom counterintuitive and unusable?
Bart Strong and David Kidney, in “Collaboratively Evaluating and Deploying Smart Technology in Classrooms,” describe the steps undertaken by McMaster University in Ontario, Canada as it embarked upon a large-scale effort to renovate and equip its classrooms with the latest teaching technologies.
A discussion of the article and a summary of its main points.
What happened in McMaster University in the early 2000s is happening, with various degrees of success, across the country. Language instructors and students are avid consumers of technology–the use of technology is now expected as a routine in the language classroom and in tasks assigned to students outside of the classroom. The keys to success in keeping our technology classrooms current, usable, and efficient are:
• a strong buy-in from faculty and students;
• commitment of the administration to invest in technology and encourage collaboration among units and ongoing evaluation by all technology users;
• and a dedicated technology unit that provides training, maintenance, and technical support at all levels.
Optimizing the Use of Class Time
Lage, Platt, and Treglia in their article, “Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment” (2000), advocate a strategy that would maximize active learning in the classroom. The “inversion” in the core of this strategy means that “events that have traditionally taken place inside the classroom now take place outside the classroom and vice versa” (32). One of the implications of this concept, discussed in academic circles in recent years, is the “abolishment” of technology from the classroom to allow for maximum student-student and student-instructor interaction. The use of technology is still an essential part of the learning environment, but it should take place outside of the classroom, as classroom time is too precious. An offshoot of this concept is the “teach naked” idea, advocated by José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts (SMU), who challenged his faculty to teach without technology.
Is the “inverted classroom” approach appropriate for language instruction? Should we “teach naked,” especially if we want to dedicate maximum time to the production skills?
Does your institution have an information technology services unit? A separate instructional technology services unit? A language resource center that focuses on technology in the language classroom?
Comfort in the Classroom
When asked to design their dream classrooms, our language teachers often commented about the importance of comfort in the classroom. We often think of comfort in terms of creating an atmosphere that is free of anxiety (to the degree that it is possible) and conducive to active participation.
Comfort in the classroom.
Are the candles the only “hazard” involved in the classrooms envisioned?
In the context of comfort, we often talked about ways to establish and demonstrate our “ownership” of the classroom.
Do we have ownership of the classroom?
Bookcases, sofas, refrigerators, closets, desks, chairs, computers–how much room is left for the individual student? Let’s look at the classroom design guide for Emory College (2008), which will give us an idea of how colleges think about the issue of room per student.
*instructor space included in “square feet per student”
Source: Emory College classroom design guide.
per student* maximum
capacity room type anticipated furnishings
27 to 33 20 seminar movable tables and chairs
28 to 30 12-18 conference one large table and chairs
24 to 28 45 classroom tablet arm chairs
23 to 25 45 classroom movable tables and chairs
25 to 27 45 classroom fixed table and movable chairs
18 to 22 200 auditorium auditorium seats with tablet arm
25 to 30 200 auditorium fixed table with movable chairs
How large would a classroom have to be in order to accommodate all these furnishings? What are we willing to give up in order to allow the optimal square feet per student? As with technology, faculty and student input is critical when it comes to furnishing our classrooms. Seek the opportunity to make your voice heard!
How Many Students per Class?
According to the Emory College classroom guide, which Emory classrooms would be unacceptable as language classrooms? Assuming that classrooms should be filled to capacity, most language teachers would conclude immediately that only the seminar and conference rooms are acceptable for language teaching–the rest are too large in terms of their capacity. And if the one large table precludes mobility, we are left with the seminar room as our only option.
Room size and furnishings are, of course, secondary in importance when it comes to the ideal numbers of students in the language classroom–the main consideration is the opportunity for active participation and interaction, which is critical for successful learning.
“ Given the goals of a standards-based language program (i.e., the development of students’ communicative competence), there must be opportunity for frequent and meaningful student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction, monitored practice, and individual feedback during instructional time. This warrants attention to a class size that remains as small as possible. ”
-ACTFL position statement on class size, May 2006
What is, then, the ideal number of students in a language classroom? How small is too small, how large is too large?
From the Literature on Class Size
Based on their experience, our participating language teachers suggested that the ideal class size is between 10-12 students. Locastro in her article “Large Size Classes: The Situation in Japan” (1989) reported the responses of students and instructors on the topic.
Some of the questions included in Locastro’s questionnaire:
• What size of class would you consider uncomfortably small?
• What size of class would you consider impossibly small?
• What size of class would you consider ideal?
• What size of class would you consider uncomfortably large?
• What size of class would you consider impossibly large?
The article posited that students preferred classes of 10-20 students, and instructors suggested that the ideal class would have 19 students. Instructors reported that at 39 students problems began to arise, and that a class of 51 students was impossible. They also reported that an uncomfortably small class begins at 7 students, and an impossibly small class has 4 or less. The issue continues to be debated, informed by a broad set of parameters from budgets and availability of physical space and instructors to the methods of instruction used in the classroom. An upper limit that is often suggested as a reasonable compromise is 25 students.
What is it that affects our perceptions regarding the number of students in the classroom?
Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. 2010. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin