Have you, as a teacher, ever thought about yourself as a manager? Have you ever seen yourself as someone who takes decisions; who has to organise his students’ resources and to implement the most efficient policies to promote effective, significant and active learning? If not… you are losing one of the most creative and challenging aspects of our job.
Teachers, it is true, have to develop creative strategies to manage the many variables that influence this desired learning. The question is that many of them are external learning factors outside the learner and related with the space, the localization, where this learning is developed. The physical and relational proximity between students and teachers generates several advantages in the form of exchange, communication, collaboration and interdependency processes. So, the classroom is the space where all these things happen and the sphere of influence of the teacher.
The innovative learning classroom
An “innovative learning classroom” is a spatial learning system which empowers the advantages of a shared space, physical proximity and knowledge spillovers, and also of motivation and relational forces. As can be seen in Figure 1, the students are organised in learning teams where agglomeration economies operate. The spatial concentration of learning activities generates positive effects on the other individual students and groups. What’s more, each student receives knowledge from the environment in which he or she learns. This derives from proximity, diversification, and interaction with the other agents of that environment. So, collaborative learning is the more convenient organizational form to take maximun advantages of the physical and relational proximity.
This type of learning systems, to become really innovative, needs to be dynamic and full of life; the students work out their own knowledge together, exploiting all the possibilities of the physical and relational space. That’s why active methodologies are the main option for teaching.
The space and all the relationships generated in it have to be well organised. For that to happen, the assessment procedures play a crucial role. It is well known how students could be pushed to certain types of learning with a strategic use of assessment. So, clear rules, norms and procedures are fundamental for the good running of the system. Well-established authority relationships, founded in shared and clear evaluation criteria, make easier formative assessment: feedback and supervision of learning processes and products avoiding the pressure of grading.
So, collaborative learning, active methodologies and strategic assessment procedures combine in a relational space to foster learning. The learning groups and the teaching team are involved in a complex system with its own dimensions and atmospheres which make high quality learning much easier.
The teacher as a manager
The central question is whether the teacher can manage this mechanism, taking the most effective decisions, and transforming the learning space into an innovative learning classroom. For that reason, this type of classroom can be described with three dimensions (physical, organizational and virtual) and three atmospheres (relational, assessment and methodological). And the teacher has to be extremely creative to deal with all the variables involved and to take a huge amount of important decisions to manage this fantastic world.
Teachers perhaps have to take decisions in the different dimensions about ergonomic conditions in the classroom and didactic and technologic resources; about the use of new technologies in the development of the course; about the organizational rules and it implementation trying to create a “course culture”. As well, they have to decide a lot of things in the three dimensions present in the innovative learning classroom: how to design the course; the use of the tasks and activities to give added value to attendance at classes; how to manage collaborative learning; deal with motivation and feedback forces; manage power relationships; plan the structure, instruments and criteria of assessment…and much more to transform a traditional classroom into a space where students can became creative learners.
This article has been published in April 2009 in “Teaching and Learning for Higher Education”, a Newsletter published two times a year by STLHE .