Personal Days: Hart Auditorium

I teach a class every semester at ACU, PSYC 120 Introduction to Psychology. Numerically, this has been the most popular class at ACU for the last ten years. For a school the size of ACU PSYC 120 is a big class with 300 students.

I used to teach this class in Walling Lecture Hall. Walling seated about 250 students. But Walling was a half circle and bowl shaped. So despite its size the class felt smaller and more intimate. I didn't need amplification. The students on the back row were close. And because of the semi-circular shape when we had a class discussion we all could see and hear each other.

But last year we lost Walling because of the renovations to the science building. The only other room that could accommodate a class my size was Hart Auditorium in the bible building.

What a nightmare.

Where Walling was bowl-shaped and circular, Hart was long and rectangular. The distance between the stage and the back row feels like ten miles. The room is so long I required, for the first time in my teaching career, amplification, clipping on a mic before each lecture. That felt distancing to me. Even worse, Hart kills class discussion. If a student asks a question in the front rows no one from the middle of the class back can hear what is being said. Let alone that we can't see each other's faces, everyone seated in rows facing forward.

Last year, teaching in Hart was hell for me. The cozy, discussion oriented vibe I had created in Walling for a big class had evaporated. Every lecture I felt that I was losing connection with the back third of the class given how far away they were from me.

Of course, I could have opted for a smaller class. But I would have been turning away hundreds of students each year who wanted to take a psychology class, the only psychology class they would ever get a chance to take during their college career. And if someone wants to take a psychology class I want to give them that chance. That makes the class enrollment swell, but it's my job to make the class feel small. In Walling I was about to do that. But Hart was giving me headaches.

So this semester I started doing two things different.

First, I started walking up and down the aisles during lectures. I'll start from the stage and then slowly walk down one aisle all the way to the back rows. I use a remote clicker with a laser pointer so I can still advance my slides while at the back of the room. I'll then slowly walk back down toward the stage, linger at the front, and then head up the other aisle.

This walking the entire room, and it's an enormous room, has completely changed the engagement of the back half of the class. They are much more attentive. They get close to me and I get close to them.

The second thing I've done is place a hand held mic in my back pocket. So as I walk around the class whenever I ask a question I just pull that mic out and hand it to the student who raised his or her hand. The students talk into the mic and everyone can hear. With that small change we're back to having class wide discussion. True, I have to run around a lot to get the mic to a student on the other side of the room who has raised their hand. But as I run from side to side I just keep talking, filling the space with content and reflections to keep the conversation moving.

All that to say, I think I'm finally getting the hang of Hart auditorium. I'm making Hart feel smaller.

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