By Johanna Rämö.
These pictures are taken in the main corridor of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the University of Helsinki. They show how learning and teaching does not have to happen in a classroom or lecture hall.
The main corridor of our department is filled with tables, so that the students can work there. Everything is close: student common room, school office, classrooms.
The corridor has become a huge drop-in class where students can spend as much time as they want. The teaching assistants, who are either senior students or members of the teaching staff, provide help 8-10 hours per day. They walk around the tables wearing colourful vests, so that the students can easily approach them.
The teaching assistants are not supposed to give answers but lead the students subtly towards a solution and help them improve their studying skills. As this kind of teaching is new to many of the teaching assistants, training is provided for them.
The tables are arranged into groups to encourage student collaboration. For the same reason the tables have been turned into whiteboards. This way it is also easier for the teachers to talk with the students about the problems they are tackling with.
The walls are covered with blackboards for the students to share their thoughts with each other. Also the researchers and professors use the blackboards in sketching their ideas.
Some time ago a student suggested that we bought gym balls for the students to sit on. They are more comfortable and ergonomic than normal chairs. We thought that it was a very good idea, and bought the balls. Here you can see the head of our department testing them.
The corridor is a real maths bazaar: it is full of students working together and having enthusiastic conversations about mathematics. The more tables we bring to the corridor, the more students come to study there. They hang around there on their spare time too, playing games and chatting with their friends. All this has had a huge impact on the atmosphere of our department.
Pictures: Veikko Somerpuro