Teaching & Learning: The Spaces We Use

I did the course as one of a group of five. I came a week late to the group so before I described the space I used I needed to introduce myself. I remember that some of the others in the group found my post describing the space I used fascinating and thought it must feel like such a privilege at times to be the custodian of the rare books but also pieces of history. Sometimes I think it might be easy to get blase about where I am and what I do but it’s when I start describing it to other people that the blase quality, if it’s ever there, disappears and the enthusiasm and passion shines through. For example of this listen to a radio segment I did recently with Martin O’Connor & Ronan Madden for Shush! Sounds from UCC Library.

The next series of blog posts will be for TL 6003: Theories of Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

Question #1: “Describe in detail a classroom setting in which you teach and discuss one challenge you have with this space.”

One of the spaces I teach in is within UCC Library’s Special Collections and it’s set up specifically for manuscript material, material that’s fragile or material that is printed pre-1850. This room, called the Rare Books Reading Room, doesn’t have computers but instead has long desks that seat two people on each side. The desks have overhead study lights (similar to the desks on the upper floors of the Library). The room is kept at c.16C and c.50% relative humidity and this is to ensure that the material used in the room is kept in the best condition possible. The students who use this room are shown either by me or in conjunction with a lecturer a particular book and they then examine the book for an exercise.

As with all spaces there are a few challenges! Anyone working in the room for an extended period of time may get cold but because of the nature of the material in Special Collections the temperature can’t be increased. Personally I know that when I’m cold, what I learn is reduced because I’m too focused on staying warm.

The primary focus of this space was conceived as a space to use material for research purposes and not as a teaching space. Indeed I frequently share the space with students, staff and researchers examining their respective manuscripts and early printed items for assignments or research, and the lecturer and/or me at the other end giving a class. As the opening hours of this particular room are limited, in order to give the best care and security to the aformentioned items, in general the students, staff and researchers are happy that the hours haven’t decreased.

I think it’s because the space wasn’t envisioned as a teaching space that the room is without a dedicated computer, projector and screen. Sometimes someone asks a
question where the explanation would be made a lot simpler by showing or would be enhanced by using a computer. One of the suggestions to me by the others in the group was to see if a computer could be acquired and I’ve used one of the Library’s iPads on a stand when giving classes in this room. It’s more portable than a computer and as it’s on a stand it doesn’t take up valuable desk space.

Question #2: How can you make the most of this learning space from your students’ perspective?
Not all of the spaces in the Rare Books Reading Room are used so one of these could be set up with a computer. If someone asks a question where a computer aided response is required then the means is there to show the means to find the answer. Additionally if anyone wanted to quickly check something then the means is there. Currently students and lecturer have to go into the room on the other side of Special Collections. When this happens there’s a break in the flow of discussion. Having a computer in this room would ensure the discussion continues to flow. Note: Since I posted this in early October 2015 I’ve semi-solved the problem by using an iPad.

What struck me as I was considering the classroom spaces I teach in was that my thoughts were automatically drawn to a space that has computers in it which we in the Library use for catalogue, database and bibliometrics teaching. While I spend some time in this room I definitely spend more time in the Rare Books Reading Room. It was then really interesting to read posts from the others in the group as they too had spaces which weren’t the usual classroom lecture/computer space but one set up for a specific purpose in mind. I think that when such spaces are set up then it may be done so with a small number of students in mind and perhaps the space is more feasible then for that particular number. Or when spaces are set up it’s with a particular teaching agenda in mind and if requirements are different to that particular agenda then it can be difficult for all parties to consider different requirements.