L. Petti

Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca (ITALY)
Although any space may be defined as educational insofar as a pedagogical event can take place anywhere (Iori, 2008), school space – particularly the classroom – is where most knowledge transmission, in the sense of formal learning, is considered to occur. The typical Italian classroom is characterized by static positioning: desks, chairs and the teacher’s desk are put in place at the beginning of the first term and, other than for specific and exceptionally occurring didactic needs, this arrangement remains unchanged: the desks usually face the teacher’s desk, where the teacher herself is positioned, the students are seated in pairs often with few changes of partner in the course of the school year. In addition, it is usually the teacher who decides where the students are to be seated, placing the less attentive pupils in the front rows and pairing off more disciplined pupils with more disruptive ones, thus discouraging cooperation and hindering progress in relationships and communication. As expressed by Richardson (1980, p.148) "very often we neglect the effect that setting may have on communication and even the emotional character of the lesson." The arrangement of the desks already says a lot about the teaching methods that teachers intend to mainly adopt: desks facing a single focal point, namely the teacher’s desk and/or whiteboard, are associated with teachers using a predominantly traditional teaching style. In settings with desks arranged in a circle or rectangle around a central space with the teacher’s desk in the middle, the teacher’s position is still prominent but not the sole visual focus; in this case, the teacher is more likely to act as a moderator and the structure of the setting promotes spontaneous interaction amongst the pupils. Furthermore, the introduction of technology into the classroom stimulates new ideas and "complicates" the setting insofar as it introduces elements of novelty that force teachers to reflect more deeply on teaching methods, learning processes and educational content in order to optimize their use of the technology. The transformation of Italian schools is underway, but it is critical that investments in technology, furniture or architecture be preceded by in-depth analysis of the needs of each specific context in order to identify optimum tailored solutions.
This study was carried out using qualitative methods. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 15 teachers (five primary school teachers, five middle school teachers and five secondary school teachers) with the aim of exploring their perceptions regarding the organization of teaching spaces within technology-supported classrooms. All the teachers interviewed had technology in their classrooms (IWB and / or tablets and / or computers ...) and used it daily in their teaching.
The interviews yielded a series of findings, including:
- an initial snapshot of Italian technology-supported classrooms at various levels of school;
- the relationship between classroom setting and the teaching methods adopted;
- teachers’ perceptions of the impact that setting can have on learning processes.