The traditional lecture hall needs a serious renovation

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Lecture halls have long been a feature of university campuses, hosting hundreds of students as passive observers in class. 

But as academics have evolved to emphasize critical thinking as opposed to routine memorization, the stagnant teaching style has remained the same.

Lecture halls place professors front and centre by design, which is good when it optimizes students’ attention. However, this structure also privileges the professor’s point of view. 

In liberal arts-based courses—or any courses valuing individual interpretation—this focus can diminish student independence and silence discussion.  

Historically, lecture halls have found their structure from Ancient Roman anatomy lectures, created with the goal of facilitating information-sharing from a knowledgeable speaker to individuals without knowledge.

In our modern age, the emphasis of lectures have changed. Many now revolve around empowering students to have their own voices and to question traditional academic thought. It’s unfair to assume students lack the knowledge to contribute to classroom discussion.

Class discourse keeps students engaged in class material as they think critically about how to contribute. It also teaches students to form, articulate and defend their thoughts, which can only help them with their eventual essays and exams.

Open classroom dialogue paces learning by allowing students to hear ideas rehashed by their peers. It creates a more hospitable environment for questions and clarifications on course material.

Many professors have already adapted their lectures to be increasingly discussion-oriented by awarding marks for participation, and asking students to talk amongst one other. 

But if Queen’s hopes to value and normalize student input, our University’s classroom architecture needs to reflect this trend in learning. 

The massive size of the Dunning or Biosciences Complex lecture halls force students to strain their voices to be heard by the entire class, deterring quieter individuals from speaking out and preventing the rest of the class from hearing their opinions when they do.

Queen’s features a few classrooms in Dunning, Ellis and Macintosh-Corry Halls geared toward interactive learning, though these are mostly reserved for smaller seminars or labs. These layouts include rolling moveable desks or a U-shaped chair  formation, allowing students to engage with one other while instructors can move throughout to guide conversation. 

Unfortunately, some courses can’t adopt these classroom styles because of the number of students. Instead of forgoing discussion, these classes should consistently pair a weekly lecture with a seminar or tutorial. 

Seminars and tutotrals allow students to share their thoughts in a smaller, less intimidating setting, as well as establishing a closer relationship with their instructors and peers. 

With standards in education changing to accept and expect students’ voices in lectures, the architecture of our learning spaces should facilitate these expectations, not inhibit them. 

Tessa is The Journal’s Photo Editor. She’s a third-year English major. 

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