Seating Configurations in the ITV Classroom

Seating is important! The arrangement of chairs and tables in the ITV classroom has ramifications for teaching and learning-- especially for communicative language practice.

Figure 1 (above) shows tables arranged in rows facing the teacher; in this common configuration, a single camera mounted above the instructor's head may tilt, pan and zoom as necessary to capture the image of any student in the classroom more or less in full face. This is advantageous from the television production point of view, but may not be best for language teaching and learning. Since students face the teacher rather than each other, and some students are looking at others' backs, the "default dialogue" most suited to such an arrangement is question-and-answer between teacher and student.

In contrast, the most desirable classroom layout for task-based instruction is one that facilitates the conveying of information in multiple possible directions, not just between teacher and student.

This translates to a need for the following:

• open space for mingling and other out-of-seat activities

• the ability to configure "stations" for small-group work

The U-shaped configuration provides these, in addition to creating an increased sense of student community and interaction, since students face one another rather than only the teacher. In the ITV classroom, the U-shaped configuration offers all these advantages, with the following important constraints:

• The tables which are the most widely-used seating option make it inconvenient for students to access the center space, and if gaps are left for access, available space is further reduced.

• The tables necessitate a tighter "U," resulting in a smaller center space, in order to leave room for seating on the outside edge and for the placement of cameras and monitors, unlike desk-chairs in the traditional classroom, which provide convenient access from the inside edge of the "U" and which may be placed right up against the classroom wall.

• When deciding how to involve receive-site students in activities, the teacher must consider the physical arrangement of technical equipment in the originating classroom such as the microphones and TV monitors necessary for visual and aural contact.

At receive sites, students generally sit in rows facing a camera and a monitor. Their spatial environment is centered more around the monitor than is the environment in the originating classroom, due to the physical absence of the teacher. Although the advantages of the U-shaped configuration still apply, seating arrangement only becomes an issue if there are more then six students or so.

The teacher in the ITV classroom sits at a special "station" at the originating site which consists of a chair and table plus special technical equipment, and faces the class. This furniture configuration is similar to that in the traditional classroom except for the presence of the additional equipment. The presence of the equipment and the necessity of avoiding sudden moves out of camera range limits the instructor's mobility and creates a certain amount of separation from the students she is facing. This physical and psychological separation can be mitigated through use of the technology to create interaction and a sense of community on program, equalizing the receive sites' and the originating site's sense of participation and access.

1999 Stephen Fleming, NFLRC, University of Hawai‘i.All rights reserved.