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'Adapting the classroom to my teaching rather than my teaching to the classroom' - Jasper Sluijs (Law)

Jasper Sluijs

Why should the layout of a classroom guide how you shape your teaching? Are there alternatives that offer more options? And what exactly do students and lecturers need? These questions are the focus of Jasper Sluijs, associate professor in the Department of International and European Law, within the Special Interest Group Learning Spaces.

‘I noticed that in my teaching I sometimes run up against the space in which I find myself. For example, the tables and chairs in a lecture room at Janskerkhof 2-3 are attached to each other with tie wraps so that I cannot move the furniture. This has to do with cables for the IT facilities, but it is rather inconvenient. I prefer to teach as little as possible in linear form in order to actively involve everyone. It is much more effective and fun to enter into a dialogue with students and to work on the subject matter together whilst actually executing what I teach. I want them to be able to stand around me, work in groups or to do something else in between. But because of limitations like those tie-wraps, I have to adapt my teaching to the space instead of being able to adapt the space to my teaching. Strange really!

Combing forces
With that in mind, I became the leader of the Special Interest Group Learning Spaces via the Users' Council for Educational Facilities. We started with a small club from several faculties, Real Estate & Campus, Facility Services and an architect. We would like to involve as many interested parties as possible in this initiative. We have monthly meetings in which we give advice, solicited and unsolicited, on a concrete learning space in development.

We then discuss a case within interactive working groups, with faculty, students and support staff, and extract information. Central questions include: How will this work in practice? What will you use it for (or not) and what issues might you encounter? The input of students within this Co-Creation Community is very valuable! It often happens that after a meeting, we think: 'Gee, we would never have thought of this way of use it! Our advice is part of the implementation process of all innovative new teaching spaces within the UU.

Visiting students
The Learning Plaza is one of the projects that we have examined. A Learning Plaza is a space with a mix of functions where a student can - in theory - spend the whole day. You can attend lectures, work in groups, organise meetings or just hang out on the couch. In rudimentary form, this exists at the International Campus Utrecht: the PPE Commons Room. It feels a bit as if you are visiting the students to teach them. This creates a very open and pleasant atmosphere, fitting the intensive, small-scale education that they provide there.

Another project being development is the collaborative lecture hall. Among other things, a flexible table structure allows lecturers to include various (activating) work methods in their lectures. Something that is impossible in a classic lecture hall.

Experience experts
The Corona pandemic has caused some initiatives to take off rapidly, such as the hybrid classrooms. The idea was already there and could now be further developed together with students and lecturers, the experience experts in the field of remote education. An important question here is: How do we ensure cohesion in a hybrid setting? In other words, how do we ensure that students who are physically on location do not have an advantage over those who are digitally present? There are great solutions for this, such as a lecturer who can remotely move from table to table in the form of a moving tablet. We have the freedom to think big and feel that there is a lot of support and enthusiasm from the university to take big steps in this area. This promises great things for the future!'

Are you interested, do you have ideas about the physical education of the future, and would you like to contribute? Then join the Learning Spaces Special Interest Group or send an e-mail to fls@uu.nl.