Asymmetry and future teaching

One thing you get used to when you teach is that the communication is inherently asymmetric between teacher and student. There is only one of you and there are many of them.

Traditionally we have accommodated this asymmetry in specific physical ways. We build classrooms and lecture halls with a large blackboard or whiteboard in front, and perhaps a raised floor as well.

The physical arrangement of classroom instruction reiterates the performative aspect of the act of teaching. At the end of the day, the teacher is essentially giving a performance.

As education migrates from physical to virtual classrooms, there are some interesting questions to ask about how teacher and students should be arranged. Do we emulate the physical classroom, or do we try something different?

On the one hand, there is something reassuringly familiar about what has worked in the physical world. On the other hand, we may not want to be bound by limitations that no longer apply.

I suspect the best solutions will start from the inherent reasons that classroom instruction is asymmetric, and will explore the ways we can use that asymmetry to best advantage.

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