The big lecture hall in Merrifield Hall at the University of North Dakota is Merrifield 300. It seat right around 150 students and is an almost a living museum of different pedagogical insights and movements.
Theater style seating establishes an immutable relationship between the student and the teacher.
The front of the room is crowded with the latest in visual teaching aids from the last 50 years: chalkboards, televisions, maps (of course), overhead video projector screens, media center, but oddly no podium. It's impossible, for example, to put your lecture notes down on the media island and refer to them in a comfortable way. It's also impossible to use both the chalkboards and the moveable screen. I've never used the televisions, but their "olde skool", tube-tv, appearances do not inspire confidence. The doors open directly into the orchestra so the first part of class is always interrupted as late arrivals seek to slip inconspicuously by the lecturer and situate themselves in the auditorium. It's a wonder that more theaters aren't designed in this way.
These complaints aside the room has a certain charm. I realized that last night will likely be my last night teaching my Western Civilization I survey in this classroom. The auditorium in our new building will have its own character, I am sure, but it will almost certainly lack the bizarre, orange-patterned carpet on the walls. Whether this was designed to calm the students, fill them with eagerness to learn, or simply deter them from looking at anything other than the lecturer in front of the room, is anybody's guess. The photo below preserves one of my favorite features of Merrifield 300, the dark right corner. This corner of the room is always packed with students, hoping, I suppose, that the lack of light makes them less visible to their classmates and the instructor.
This is the final room of my Merrifield Hall farewell tour. (Check out Room 215, Room 217, Room 209, and the hallways of Merrifield) Friday afternoon, I begin to pack up my office and hope to have it reasonably squared away before my impending departure for Cyprus. Merrifield Hall has been the home of the Department of History for over 80 years at the University of North Dakota, an admirable tenure for any department in any building. Most of the Department's notable graduates studied in its rooms, the most productive faculty in the Department's history worked in its offices, and the rooms, hallways, and offices bear witness to research practices, student habits, and teaching techniques of the building's long history. Documenting some of the spaces and places in Merrifield hall has revealed the accumulated traces of practice from its long history. By midsummer, we will begin to process of inscribing the new building with the evidence for our activities, habits, and routines.