Some additional information about an important and exciting component of the Student Success Center – the Lecture Hall in the round.
The question of whether to include a classroom situated in the round received a lot of attention and discussion during the programming and technical criteria development phase for the Student Success Center.
This started back in April 2017 when we (the campus working group charged with developing the Basis of Design) held a forum to collect campus input on various building elements including faculty preferences for classrooms. More than 130 people attended and provided feedback on different classroom designs including in the round. The responses were as you might expect – some faculty were excited about the opportunities for engaging with students, others were concerned about how lecturing would work in a round space, and some held both points of view.
The working group then conducted campus surveys of both students and faculty to get additional input. The faculty respondents were about evenly split on the question of whether to include such a room – just about a third said we should, a third were indifferent, and a third didn’t want it. Around two thirds of student respondents wanted such a room while less than one fifth didn’t.
We then specifically asked our faculty who teach large lectures about their lecture hall preferences. A pretty clear pattern emerged with the “Genomics Auditorium style” room (half-circle with tables) being most preferred and the others (including traditional rectangular, in the round, and group tables) clumped together in the middle of a 1-5 scale.
The working group recommended three rooms with the Genomics-style layout for the Student Success Center but we also needed a lecture hall with higher seating density. So the group considered a traditional rectangular, a 3-quarter round and a full in the round. We interviewed the master architect who designed a round room for Washington State University and looked at data from Oregon State University that showed a statistically significant decline in the DFW rates for classes taught in their round rooms. Ultimately the workgroup voted 11-1 in favor of such a room in our building.
As a final check, in early 2019 we brought 20 UCR faculty (who teach large classes and/or are members of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers) to Oregon State to experience their round classrooms and talk with faculty and students. Afterwards, there was broad support for including such a room and many faculty were enthusiastic about it. Several openly expressed skepticism going in but then changed their minds after experiencing the space. The feedback we received mainly focused on making the space as effective as possible for our faculty.
While it’s true that not everyone will want to teach in a round space, the consensus of the working group was that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. This room also adds to the variety of lecture halls on campus which helps us serve the variety of teaching styles among the faculty. And we think it will be a great venue for outside speakers when not being used for teaching – one can easily imagine town hall style events, political debates and 1:1 interviews in such a space.
Frequently asked questions about lecturing “in the round”
Isn’t the instructor’s back always to some of the students?
Yes, but neither faculty nor students we met at Oregon State University said this was an issue. Students we spoke with said they found the space to be more energizing and engaging than a traditional rectangular lecture hall. It’s also true that the instructor’s back is to the students in a traditional space every time the instructor turns to face the projection screen or write on the board. The round space has the significant advantage of bringing all students much closer to the instructor. For example, Oregon State has a 600 seat round lecture hall with the podium in the center and a 400 seat traditional lecture hall with the podium set to one side of the screen. The back row of the larger round space is closer to the instructor than the front row seats on the opposite side of the screen from the podium in the smaller traditional space. The faces of the students in the back row of the traditional space are barely visible to the instructor.
How do all students see the projected images?
Our lecture hall will have multiple sets of dual projectors – one set aligned with each “wedge” of seating and each set projecting the same images simultaneously – so all students will have a clear view of the projected images.
How do you use a laser pointer?
Instructors can use a virtual laser pointer on a tablet, which is then projected simultaneously on all screens for everyone to see.
How do you use a whiteboard?
Instructors can use a virtual whiteboard by writing on a tablet, which is then projected simultaneously on all screens. We saw one faculty member do this exclusively for his lectures. But if you need a physical whiteboard, then you would need to use a different room.
What happens when all of this great technology malfunctions?
The Student Success Center will have modern technology in all of its classrooms. Altogether, that’s a lot of technology and a lot of technology-dependent spaces. The management plan for the building will be developed with this in mind. Also, all technologies will meet campus standards both to ensure instructors feel “at home” no matter which room they teach in, and to facilitate troubleshooting and maintenance.
How can I incorporate demonstrations into my lecture in this space?
An instructor might use a secondary camera to project the demonstration up on the screens and give all students a clear, up-close view. But if this isn’t possible or desirable, then a different room with a more traditional seating pattern may be needed.
Doesn’t this space require a lot of performance to make it work?
We saw a variety of teaching styles used effectively in the round classrooms at Oregon State. One instructor spent all of her time walking the aisles with a wireless tablet, untethered from the podium, engaging at close range with students in the 600 seat lecture hall. Another instructor stood at the center podium with his back to one section of students, turning occasionally to face them, but spending most of his time writing notes on a tablet. Students we spoke with did not seem to mind the less performative approach, and a few even said they preferred to sit behind the instructor because it helped them focus on his projected notes.
Can I get training/practice before I teach in the round classroom?
We are working on this. Riverside has a theater in the round in downtown, and the management has expressed willingness to host groups of faculty who want to experience a similar space before using our round classroom. We will share more details about this and other opportunities as they become available.