Open Classroom Project Provides Learning Experience for Faculty

Alan Altany, director of the Coulter Faculty Center, says the Open Classroom Project “is an opportunity for faculty to learn more about teaching methods and goals by directly experiencing the classroom teaching of others.” With the help of Western’s faculty, staff and GTA members, the 2003 Open Classroom Project was a success.

Throughout the fall semester of 2003, a total of 124 classrooms were opened by 51 of the university’s faculty members. Teaching schedules were collected from faculty members who volunteered to open their classrooms up for observation. Following this, the schedules became available among the university’s part and full-time faculty and GTA members.

What is the purpose of this project? An open classroom provides faculty and GTA members of the university an opportunity to observe new ideas and customs of teaching. Observers have the chance to distribute to, and obtain ideas from, other colleagues. Interim Department Head and professor of Communications Dr. John Slater says, the Open Classroom Project “helps make what goes on in the classroom transparent.”

According to Altany, “There has been more visiting of open classes this fall semester than ever before.” Over the past three semesters, the number of faculty volunteering to open one or more of their classes to visits by colleagues has gone from approximately 28 (Fall 2002) to 35 (Spring 2003) to 51 (Fall 2003). With high hopes, Altany has set a goal of having at least 75 faculty members open up their classes for Spring 2004.

Slater said, “I opened up my classroom because I have had so much fun visiting other faculty members’ classrooms that I wanted to share with still others.” Believing in the concept of the Open Classroom Project, English professor and Coulter Faculty Fellow Terry Nienhuis also chose to open several of his classes. He said, “I believe that teachers can benefit greatly from seeing other teachers and students at work.”

Altany pronounces that if the majority of Western’s faculty members would open up their classes, Western would be unique among all colleges and universities in the country. He says, “Western would be recognized for such a collegial effort to develop a community for teaching and learning.”

However, there have been some problems in the past with faculty members actually visiting the opened classes. Altany has always been very persevering in encouraging project volunteers to visit the classes of other volunteers. Participating members of the Open Classroom Project are expected to encourage faculty at large to visit opened classes.

For the first time this past semester, volunteers of the Open Classroom Project are gathering data on how many visitations were actually made. However, Altany says this information is not yet available.

Nienhuis says, “I have visited at least one class every week for nine straight semesters. My experience is always enlightening and often quite exciting as well.”

From a student’s point of view, Leah Wagner comments, “I am studying to be a teacher and the Open Classroom Project seems like a wonderful idea. As a future teacher, I would definitely participate in an activity like this because it would allow me to easily pick up on new teaching ideas.”

According to Slater, “Most of us are in the business because we really enjoy learning things.” The Open Classroom Project provides participating members with an opportunity to learn and use the ideas that they admire most. In Alan’s words, “Gain insight into different approaches of teaching. The Open Classroom Project is set to help further the professional development of teachers and creators of learning.”