Classrooms that alienate your students before you even start

Friendship is critical to the success of students, especially on arrival at university (Heron, 2017). For many students it is critical that a university, its staff and students do whatever they can to foster friendship and a sense of belonging in the first semester of the first year.

If you are teaching and using rooms set out in rows you may be inadvertently missing an important opportunity to break down barriers and allow acquaintenances to develop into supportive and meaningful friendships. In the first few weeks of teaching new students will be inducted in many ways but their experience of each other in a formal learning and teaching context can make a difference. Classroom activity needs to be inspiring, engaging, safe and supported. It needs to be designed in such a way that the students co-operate and use each other to benchmark acceptable practice. Experience in these first few weeks is significant in developing expectations about teaching and learning behaviours. This clarity helps to address anxieties.

Scott-Webber (2004), and many others, have noted that the design rationale of classrooms that incorporate inflexible rows is that students should not be distracted from focusing on their teacher (Scott-Weber, 2004). It is not surprising therefore that the design precludes interactivity amongst multiple participants. For interactivity, students need to be able to face each other and the teacher needs room to work with and amongst their students.

This site explores classroom configurations. Fostering peer friendship can be facilitated by creating opportunities for students to discover each other intellectually and through joint enterprise in the classroom.


Heron, E. (2017). ‘The power of listening’. Presentation of research given to the Applied Learning Academic Interest Group, 26 September 2017

Scott-Webber, L. (2004). In sync: environmental behaviour research and the design of learning spaces. Michigan, SCUP.

2 thoughts on “Classrooms that alienate your students before you even start

  1. It is all very well having this wonderful insight available however when classroom as are routinely set up exam row style, staff have to put a lot of effort into changing things for a session. If the default arrangement was Caberet what a difference it would make. How can the default style be changed is perhaps a simple but dramatic change that can be made.

    • Hi Sara, since 2016 the official policy for the university is that the default layout of teaching rooms is Cabaret-style, however the issue is that people rearrange the room into rows and don’t put it back to how it should be and then it stays like this until either someone else changes it back or staff from facilities check the room and reconfigure it. It may be worth checking with facilities to see if they can reconfigure the room for you prior to you teaching sessions.

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