Just the other day I wandered aimlessly into the line of fire on a discussion about “the classroom.” More specifically, what do faculty envision when confronted with the term. Is it the place where learning happens? Is it the place where teaching happens? Is it always physical, or can there be an online classroom? Is it an egalitarian and distributed community or a dictatorship with one-way communication? Strong positions were posed on multiple sides, and they were all interesting paradigms from which to view “the classroom.” This was one of those conversations where I entered as one person and left as another. It was an incredible learning experience and while I respect the beliefs of others, I unapologetically and steadfastly stand on my own beliefs. (at least until I change my mind).
The entire subject of what and where the classroom "is" misses the point entirely. The “classroom” does not exist. I know, how can something not exist when we can all look at it and stand in it and blah, blah, blah. I’ve got that, and I concede. There indeed is a room there…. a physical, specific, concrete room. But, what makes that a classroom? What makes any room a “class” room?
People. Contact. Communication. Relationships. Growth. Learning.
These are things that make a room a classroom. Now I’m not trying to say that it’s always touchy-feely. There can be egotistical people (professors) who have minimal contact and engage in only unidirectional communication without reciprocal relationships and who view growth as a measure to sift and sort students and focus more on regurgitation than learning. These exchanges exist, but they have nothing to do with a physical or virtual space. The room is nothing more than a detail. These things have to do with how the professor (the one in power) assigns value to the learning experience and the human beings they are engaged with during that process. This value assignment happens on the most personal and philosophical levels.
Without some sort of human interaction the “classroom” simply does not exist. Relationships of all kinds do. Power relations do. And the manner by which we as educators engage a student is absolutely real no matter where the venue is or what tools we use to engage them. We need to re-think the classroom and reassess the value we put on the physical space as opposed to the relationships we develop with students. We need to be brave enough to push past the comfort of what we have seen come before and embrace that we can do more and this can be a better experience for everyone.
When is the last time a Nobel Prize was awarded to someone who followed the status quo? If we want to be great we have to be willing to be exposed. If we don’t, it’s no big deal… That’s what most other people do too.