“In a coffee shop, people seem to be themselves. They speak openly; they cross their legs; they laugh out loud; they stay awhile. I’m not convinced people engage with strangers as easily in other public spots.” – Dr. Lindsay J. McCunn, Psychology Today
Environmental psychology, which focuses on the relationship between people and their surroundings, fascinates me. These environments can be physical buildings, social settings, learning spaces, etc. So when it came time to plan my Career and Academic Planning course for 30 students this fall, I wanted to re-imagine my classroom. I brainstormed ways I could create a “coffee shop classroom” that would allow my students to contribute authentically. I desire a classroom where students can get to know their peers and openly engage in discussion. Since the coursework focuses on self-reflection, personality, and decision-making, it is imperative that students feel free to express their honest opinions and truest values.
Sadly, there will be no broken-in armchairs, barista, or smell of freshly brewed coffee in our classroom. I can control some other factors, though, and those are:
I do not think I ever took a class in college where the professor played music during instruction. And quite frankly, I am not quite sure how it’s going to go! As students enter class, I plan to use relaxing, mellow Spotify playlists like ‘Your Favorite Coffeehouse’ to set the tone. My hope is that I can continue to play background music, especially when students are working in groups or on individual assignments.
Students are asssigned to groups for the entirety of my eight-week course based on indicators like major interests. Once they are in their small groups, they are free to determine desk configuration. Traditional “pods” of desks will likely fit best in the classroom. But, when students are working on activities, they are able to spread out onto the floor, into the hallway, etc. I will also encourage students to stand frequently if they find themselves restless.
Last year, I asked students to not eat or drink in my class. Several students pushed back, citing back-to-back classes or the need to snack in order to stay alert. This semester, I have changed my policy to allow food and drinks as long as they do not become a distraction. My hope is that this will promote the more casual classroom atmosphere that I am striving to achieve. Additionally, students will have an opportunity during the first week of class to suggest classroom rules or guidelines that they believe would benefit the group. I am hoping that each and every student feels empowered to have an active role in every class conversation.
I am also encouraging students to use technology like laptops or iPads when relevant. Like a coffee shop, I want students to take ownership in how they learn and get their work done. I plan to initiate a conversation during our first class to talk about times that technology might be more or less appropriate.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Paige Erhart at firstname.lastname@example.org.