Distinguished Chairs of Learning

Ken front1.jpg

Thinking about the Bests Seats in the House led me down another tangent of seating arrangements and learning. How does the room arrangement impact on the class or the lecture?There are several basic seating arrangements commonly found.

Lecture style: the seats are placed in rows across the room. There is no place to write, however. I have heard this called "theatre " style seating. I usually like these with a center aisle.

Classroom style: Again chairs are arranged in rows across the room in front of the speaker, but there are tables in front of each row so people have a place for papers and room to take notes.

U-shaped Classroom style: Often for smaller groups the tables are arranged in a U shape with students sitting around the table. The instructor, speaker has the open end.

Cafe style: Here the chairs are arranged in semi circles around round tables in such a way they can see each other, yet look up front at the speaker. A room set up this style might have five or six clusters with about 6 people per table. Good for small group segments of workshops.

Roundtable: Often a board room table, or a cluster of smaller tables are pulled together with seating around the outer edge. The roundtable format is particularly useful for discussions with a moderator. They are less effective with larger groups.

Which arrangements have you used? How has the arrangement impacted on learning? Have you even thought about it?

And while I am thinking about the setting of the seating, my ex-wrestler son-in-law, AdamFirestrm tells me he liked to have music with his entrance to pump up his fans. Tell me, what impact has music on the genealogy education context?
Your comments are welcome.


7 responses to “Distinguished Chairs of Learning

  1. Ken,

    It seems to me that most venues have the style locked in and can’t really be changed.

    At our library, where we have our classes, we have a conference room with a central table, 16 chairs and chalk blackboards. This works well for learning in groups of 8 to 10, because everyone can see and hear everyone else, but the leader can usually control the discussion. When we have over 10 it is difficult to keep everyone focussed on the subject at hand (well, I could throw chalk, I guess, but don’t! Usually, a request for “one discussion please” does the trick). One problem here is that one person can dominate the discussion, and some hold back contributing (shyness or fear of saying something stupid, although I try to go around the table when we are discussing an issue).

    Our society meetings are held in the library auditorium with theatre seating, with the speaker at a podium in front of the seats with a screen above the stage. There are about 15 seats per row, and maybe 10 rows with side aisles. We usually have 25 to 35 attendees, but they don’t sit packed tightly – usually they spread out over the first 6 to 8 rows. It is difficult to hold their attention sometimes without visuals (hmm, maybe I’m boring? or use my engineers monotone, or I mumble too much – I don’t use the mike so that I have to project my voice, although the acoustics are pretty good). Many attendees take notes either on a pad or on the handout. I always provide a one or two page handout, since it helps order the presentation and jogs the memory after the meeting. It does make a difference if the attendees want to be there and are eager to learn rather than have to be there and could care less about learning.

    We have a new library in a nearby suburb, with a community room that is not conducive to having our meetings. It is about 20 feet deep and about 80 feet wide, with room for three rows of chairs, and floor to ceiling windows on the ends. We had hoped for a better arrangement because it has Wi-Fi which our current venue doesn’t have in the auditorium. We were very disappointed!

    In summary, it seems to me that the presenter and the topic make more difference to learning than the venue seating.

    Music? I’m tempted to sing “I Am My Own Grandpa” in my lecture on “Genealogy is Fun” on 30 January, but that might really drive them out (I am going to recite it, with an image showing the pretzeled descendants chart of the family). We really haven’t explored music at our meetings – I did look for genealogy songs recently – there are some, mostly ballads from the early 1900’s about family life.

    Too long-winded – sorry. How many lines will your comments box accept? I guess I’m testing it, eh?

    Take care — Randy

  2. Randy, sounds like your present situation allows for either the u shape seating or the round table seating quite nicely. I am not so sure that side conversations are a problem of seating or a adjacency. In first grade Miss Brett move Beverly Ann between Larry and I and that solved the problem. In adult learning situations you can’t get even Beverly Ann to cooperate. And they sit where it pleases them. In some situations I have seen discussion leaders, facilitators, moderators, direct a question to one of the chatterers, “What’s your view on this idea, Dolores?” often works to bring people back into focus– but be prepared to immediate draw on someone else who has been following the situation more closely.

    Throw chalk! Outrageous! I’ve done it myself but when teaching college men overseas. The challenge is to lob the chalk so it lands on the table in front of the student, breaking on impact with a disturbing noise. Difficult to pull off ( though I practiced) but not recommended with adults behaving like adults.

  3. Music. When I go to church I notice that the organist places prelude music that helps us quiet down, settle down and prepare for the service. When I watch sports ( which is seldom) I note the marching band plays upbeat, fast-paced music which gears me up for the organized passion and agression of the last half of the event. Personally I like a bit of Beethovan to pump me up before a major lecture. I found “Ode to Joy” and used that once and it carried me through the last minute mental prep. But that was in private. Could I use music in the lecture room or classroom, to calm people, to pump people, to make an entrance? would it seem hokey?

  4. A famous professor of psychology uses loud rock music to “play him in” when he makes a big presentation/lecture. At the podium he turns the music down and attention focuses on him almost completely. It’s a trick, but it even works on an audience of hardened professionals!

  5. Hey, Martin. He understood what Adam Firestorm explained, the music enhances the entrance– and focusses the attention. Years ago I heard an intro for a local “star” in Hawaii. The MC announced “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Dan Molino Show starrrrring [ drum roll] DAN MOLINO!!

    I was hooked. But I have never used it for a grand entrance because I don’t have a gag writer to help me with my opening lines.

    But the point is, music an set the mood as in church, or it can focus the audience. Why not use it?

  6. Ken,

    I attended a 6 hour seminar today at San Diego Gen Society’s annual meeting with about 150 attendees – Bill Dollarhide and Leland Meitzler each did two lectures.

    The venue was a hotel conference hall. The seats were in a V-shape with a center aisle. They worked with overheads and a relatively small screen (6′ x 6′?) on the floor. Everyone sat essentially facing the screen and the speaker, who could roam up the center aisle if he wished (and they did). It worked really well, I thought, except the screen was too small for the back rows and was too close for the first two rows.

    No music. They each started their first talk with sure-laugh overheads – got everyone in the mood. They are pros, of course. But amazingly, their presentations were relatively unpolished – no Powerpoint type overheads, just copies of records to make their points. Lots of asides about unrelated topics, they answered questions posed immediately, etc. It worked because of the depth of their knowledge and reputation.

    I had fun today…but I just missed the grand prize raffle number – it was 4 hotel days in SLC. Oh well.

    Cheers — Randy

  7. Randy,
    Dollarhide & Meitzler do a very popular roadshow, and there are things you can learn from the experience.

    The first thing I learned from my small screen thing was to put it right in the contract that the 10 foot or 12 foot screen was required. It may be an added expense for the host, but it sure makes a difference to the audience.

    The room arrangement sounds good. I am sure they worked that center aisle quite effectively to get them into the audience.

    While the powerpoint presentations are great, I find the upward learning curve is slow and still have most of mine on overheads. slowly converting or abandoning lectures. THe cost of a machine that would project 1500 to 2000 lumens needed for large groups is generally over $1000. Its a luxery for those just starting in the lecture business, though increasingly desireable as you can imagine. Most hosts cannot supply them so they are a speaker expense.

    No music? Pity. What would be appropriate, polka music? I wondered about making an entrance to Scottish fiddle music.


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