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TEACHER'S DAY SPECIAL: Converting Lecture Halls to Learning halls

TEACHER'S DAY SPECIAL: Converting Lecture Halls to Learning halls

  • 6th Sep 2023
  • Education Times, Times of India

A classroom structure that provides an opportunity for the teacher to move into the class and interact with each learner will facilitate the active learning process, writes Edamana Prasad.

In every higher learning institute, administrators are generally keen on constructing sufficient number of lecture halls to promote the teaching-learning process. However, one of the growing concerns is the sharp reduction in the 'attention span' and 'retention span' of learners, especially after the pandemic. As a result, teachers observe that learners face cognitive overloading during a non-stop lecture class and this is felt by many teachers.

How do teachers address this issue in a constructive way? It has been known and substantiated by studies, even before the pandemic, that significant learning performance such as critical thinking or creative thinking cannot be achieved by an average learner. Nonetheless, large numbers of classes are still based on unilateral lecture format! The teaching fraternity has been obsessed with lecturing and obviously old habits die hard (or more correctly, hardly die!).

In a traditional classroom environment, the teacher acts as a content provider. The classroom is also designed that way. There will be a podium, a table and a chair. The idea is that the teacher can 'use' the platform to teach. This picture is deep rooted in teachers mind and the very concept of teaching has become 'talking teacher and a set of receptive students'. The dichotomy is that, even a traditional teacher finally verifies the learning, not through student's 'receiving' capability but by their 'retrieving' capability! Ironically, no training is given on 'retrieving ability' during the teaching.

Changing role of teacher
Teacher's role in modern times is to focus more on assisting individuals on how to learn and carry out the assessment, than providing content. This is very difficult to achieve in the current classroom structure since the current classroom structure invites unilateral lecture. It is high-time that policymakers, educators and college administrators have to think of re-designing the lecture halls in higher education institutes, suiting to modern day pedagogy/andragogy.

There are several pedagogical methods, namely think-pair-share, bookened model class, peer instruction model, process enquiry based model, and flipped class, among others, which are suitable to promote higher order thinking. However, implementing these techniques in a conventional type classroom is a real challenge, especially if the classroom size is large. This has been an impediment for faculty members who really want to implement some of these techniques in classrooms.

In order to facilitate the above-mentioned structured interactive learning, the following conditions have to be met: (i) the classrooms must contain a seating arrangement, which promotes face-to-face interaction among learners; (ii) learners should start actively involved in judiciously selected intellectual activities under the guidance of the teacher, and (iii) the teacher should provide accurate feedback to the learner, while the learning is being formed (formative assessment).

Thus, it is essential that a teacher cannot be 'placed' only at the podium in such classes. Teachers are advised to 'float' in to the class in order to provide feedback to learners on the cognitive activities they experience during the class time. Since different learners are on different points on a learning curve, due to their varied preparedness in the subject, personalised feedback is utmost important to make significant improvement in their learning process. If the classroom structure provides an opportunity for the teacher to move in to the class, and interact with each learner, it will facilitate the active learning process.

Peer learning is important
Another important feature to be taken care is that classroom structure should facilitate peer learning. Large numbers of studies indicate that students yield better learning success through peer interaction. The current set-up of classrooms with benches and desks in rows and columns do not permit the learners to process the study materials through peer learning. At IIT Madras, the Teaching Learning Centre (TLC) has been working to address these important issues. The TLC has designed learning spaces in the campus which are conducive to active and cooperative learning among learners.

Present day students will prefer this type of a learning environment, rather than a non-stop, one sided lecture class. It is known that generation -z learners (current generation in universities) are more pragmatic and self-reliant than the previous learner generations and hence they prefer learning by doing. The design of 21st century classroom must consider the characteristic nature of learners, learner diversity, and be inclusive in all respect, first by modifying the existing classroom structure.

(The author is professor, Department of Chemistry, IIT Madras)