Guiding the planning, design and use of active learning classrooms

By: Gavan Watson & Natasha Kenny

Post 1 of 2

Dr. Natasha Kenny (University of Calgary) and I have collaborated on two posts focused on the planning, design and use of active learning classrooms. The development of these kind of learning spaces are a relatively recent development in Canadian Higher Education, with a majority of these classrooms renovated or built within the last ten years. In this first post, Natasha and I survey the literature describing just what we know about active learning classrooms and their reported impact on classroom teaching and student learning.

What are Active Learning Classrooms?

Most simplistically, active learning classrooms (ALC) are on-campus learning spaces intentionally designed to allow for the facilitation by instructors of a variety of active learning strategies.

While most research on the effects of active learning has occurred in the context of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, these classroom techniques have been shown to offer a variety of meaningful improvements in student learning (Freeman et al., 2014; Theobald et al., 2020; Weir et al., 2019). Here, we draw on recent work of Driessen et al. (2020) to offer a definition of active learning, as a “…interactive and engaging [learning] process for students” implemented through a variety of classroom techniques that can include “metacognition, discussion [and] group work” (p. 6). Active learning researchers also foreground that many of the approaches used are student-centred (Kember, 1997), with a focus on students being offered agency or choice in what and how they learn (O’Neill & McMahon, 2005); put another way, students engaged in active learning are active (co-) creators of knowledge, rather than passive consumers.

Connections between classrooms and learning

While outside the scope of this series of posts to provide a detailed overview of the literature on the relationship between classroom spaces and learning, work in this area is clear: spaces that support teaching and learning are not neutral. Not neutral in the sense that the design elements of classroom spaces can help or hinder the adoption of approaches to teaching. Monahan (2002) writes that classroom design communicates a hidden curriculum (the implicit messages about the kinds of learning possible in a space), with classroom spaces built along a continuum of discipline and autonomy. Built pedagogy — “the ability of space to define how one teaches” (Oblinger, 2006)—asks us to reconsider the neutrality of space, and instead think of how spaces combine with beliefs and practice to create place. Monahan (2002) further defines built pedagogy as the “architectural embodiments of our educational philosophies” (p.5). Likewise, Ellis and Goodyear (2016) state that the “connections between place and learning can be subtle and powerful” (p. 150), and that space both communicates and influences “how knowledge is discovered, distilled and disseminated” (p. 165). Classrooms become places where implicit approaches to teaching and learning and the values underlying are made visible (for more on this, outside the context of ALCs but within the context of higher education, see Brown, 2019).

Figure 1: Panoramic photograph of an Active Learning Classroom at Western University (London, Canada).

In this regard then, ALCs are not only purpose-built spaces for the facilitation of active learning strategies, but through their design can allow students act as co-creators of knowledge, when those students are engaged in student-centred pedagogies.

Active learning classrooms versus traditional classrooms

ALCs are often described in opposition to so-called “traditional classrooms,” the learning spaces more typically found across higher education campuses. Traditional classrooms have been defined by their fixity: shared characteristics of fixed seating, arranged in rows, with an instructor located at the front of the classroom, often found behind a podium. Built, pedagogically speaking, for the direct transmission of knowledge through techniques like lecturing, researchers have noted that despite this fixed nature, active learning can still be facilitated in these traditional classrooms (Lasry et al., 2014); it is just that active learning is often adjunct to the underlying assumptions around what teaching and learning looks like.

Traditional classrooms have been defined by their fixity…built, pedagogically speaking, for the direct transmission of knowledge through techniques like lecturing.

ALC’s received increased attention in higher education research in the late 2000’s and early 2010s (Brooks, 2012; Walker et al., 2011; Whiteside et al., 2010a), and since then so-called active learning classrooms (of various designs) have been introduced to Universities and Colleges across the United States and Canada.

How active learning classrooms differ

So then, what makes ALCs different from traditional classrooms? Three US-based classroom projects appear to set an initial direction for the design of ALC spaces (Hyun et al., 2017): the University of Minnesota’s Active Learning Classrooms (Whiteside et al., 2010b), MIT’s Technology-Enabled Active Learning, or TEAL classrooms (Dori & Belcher, 2005), and classrooms designed for North Carolina State’s Student-Centred Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs (or SCALE-UP) (Gaffney et al., 2008). Interactivity and technology, in opposition to fixity, underpin these designs, and publications on the outcomes fostered by learning in these classrooms share results of projects undertaken to improve the quality of learning focused on enhancing interaction through the configuration of learning spaces.

Finkelstein et al., (2016) and Finkelstein and Winer (2020) have also described and researched active learning classrooms within the Canadian context highlighting practical features of these spaces centred the following principles: academic challenge, learning with peers, experiences with faculty, campus environment and high-impact practices. These principles are directly connected to themes communicated and assessed through the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE). The authors summarize that learning spaces should:

  • allow students to actively engage with content and include a range of technologies that support multiple modes of teaching and learning.
  • provide features that permit students to work both individually and in collaboration with one another.
  • facilitate communication and interaction between students and faculty.
  • be consistent with the university’s culture and priorities as reflected in the campus master plan, follow university design standards, and be designed with future flexibility in mind.
  • exist within a larger a larger campus context; there should be an ease of transition between spaces so as to better support high-impact practice inside and outside the classroom (Finkelstein et al., 2016, p. 29).

Hallmarks of design

Interactivity, between classroom peers, between students and course material and between the instructor and students, is a focus of ALCs. Now, over ten years after the initial development of these classrooms, hallmarks of ALCs’ designs include:

  1. students sitting in small groups, arranged at tables, with learners facing each other;
  2. a lack of a “front” of the room, achieved in part by:
    1. the lack of a fixed podium;
    2. multiple screens and / or monitors; and
    3. whiteboards or writable walls situated around the room, easily accessible to all learners; and
  3. flexible furniture arrangements, most notably achieved through wheels on chairs, and when possible, wheels on tables.

Interactivity, between classroom peers, between students and course material and between the instructor and students, is a focus of Active Learning Classrooms.

Technology, when included in these spaces, affords students enhanced capacity to work together by facilitating the ease of information sharing (Stalp & Hill, 2019), such as through the sharing of student work via the multiple classroom monitors. Less visible, consideration is also given to acoustics, lighting and air quality (Finkelstein & Winer, 2020) in the design of these rooms.

Floor plan view of an active learning classroom. 7 pods with seating for six are spread around a square-shaped room. Each pod has a short-throw interactive projector. The room is surrounded in whiteboards. An instructor station is featured in the middle of the room.
Figure 2: Floor plan of an active learning classroom at Western University (London, Canada), illustrating design principles of an active learning classroom.

While technology plays a role in supporting the instructional efforts in these spaces, it has also been shown that in some cases ALCs do not significantly build students’ technological skills (Stalp & Hill, 2019). Research, however, suggests that within the limits of the respective projects, that ALCs exert “an independent and positive effect on student learning” (Brooks, 2012), and when compared with learning in traditional classroom, student self-rated satisfaction with learning increased, with students more satisfied with group work processes (Hyun et al., 2017). Peer connections developed in ALCs are perceived as meaningful and important (Stalp & Hill, 2019), where students and instructors develop a so-called “educational alliance” through the reduction of psychological distance between individuals in the class seemingly afforded by the classroom design (Baepler & Walker, 2014).

Importantly, however, other findings suggest that it is the facilitation of active learning that has a significant impact on student learning, independent of classroom design itself (Lasry et al., 2014). This suggests that if an instructor can successfully facilitate active learning in a traditional classroom, student outcomes will improve. What seems to change in ALCs, importantly, is the perception on the part of instructors that facilitating active learning is easier in these purpose-built spaces (Holec & Marynowski, 2020). This is supported by classroom observations in ALCs, where “classroom discussion and use of the board occurred more frequently in the ALC while the instructor moved about the room and consulted with students more in the ALC space.” (Brooks, 2012).

What have we learned about active learning classrooms?

We have learned, most fundamentally, that active learning classrooms support student-centred approaches to learning (Holec and Marynowski, 2020; Karipponaon et al, 2018; Eliis and Goodyear, 2016). What has also become clear is that we must see these spaces as a critical component of our teaching and learning community. Classrooms can be viewed as one of the most important artifacts that communicate the teaching and learning approaches that are most valued within our institutions: they represent an institution’s philosophy of teaching and learning. Holec and Marynowski (2020) identify that we can no longer see our learning environments as separate from our pedagogy. In short, we have learned that the planning, design, and use of learning spaces must be seen as a critical component of our institutional teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices.

Classrooms can be viewed as one of the most important artifacts that communicate the teaching and learning approaches that are most valued within our institutions: they represent an institution’s philosophy of teaching and learning.

Given what we have learned about ALCs, how then do we move forward to make the connection between space and learning more broadly visible within the context of our academic communities? We explore these questions in our second post on the topic.


Baepler, P., & Walker, J. D. (2014). Active Learning Classrooms and Educational Alliances: Changing Relationships to Improve Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 137, 27–40.

Brooks, D. C. (2012). Space and Consequences: The Impact of Different Formal Learning Spaces on Instructor and Student Behavior. Journal of Learning Spaces, 1(2).

Brown, K. (2019). Creating Culturally Safe Learning Spaces and Indigenizing Higher Education. Journal of Learning Spaces, 8(2), 57–65.

Dori, Y. J., & Belcher, J. (2005). How Does Technology-Enabled Active Learning Affect Undergraduate Students Understanding of Electromagnetism Concepts? The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14(2), 243–279.

Driessen, E. P., Knight, J. K., Smith, M. K., & Ballen, C. J. (2020). Demystifying the Meaning of Active Learning in Postsecondary Biology Education. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 19(4), ar52.

Finkelstein, A., & Winer, L. (2020). Active learning anywhere: A principled-based approach to designing learning spaces. In S. Hoidn & M. Klemenčič (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Student-Centered Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (pp. 327–344).

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415.

Gaffney, Richards, E., Kustusch, E., Ding, M. B., & Beichner, L. (2008). Scaling Up Education Reform. Journal of College Science Teaching, 37(5), 48–53.

Holec, V., & Marynowski, R. (2020). Does it Matter Where You Teach? Insights from a Quasi-Experimental Study on Student Engagement in an Active Learning Classroom. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 8(2), 140–164.

Hyun, J., Ediger, R., & Lee, D. (2017). Students’ Satisfaction on Their Learning Process in Active Learning and Traditional Classrooms. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(1), 108–118.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualization of the research into University Academics’ conceptions of teaching. Learning and Instruction, 7(3), 255–275.

Lasry, N., Charles, E., & Whittaker, C. (2014). When teacher-centered instructors are assigned to student-centered classrooms. Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research, 10(1), 010116–010119.

Monahan, T. (2002). Flexible Space & Built Pedagogy: Emerging IT Embodiments. Inventio, 4(1), 1–19.
Oblinger, D. (2006). Space as Change Agent. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning Spaces (pp. 1–4). EDUCAUSE.

O’Neill, G., & McMahon, T. (2005). Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? In G.

O’Neill, S. Moore, & B. McMullin (Eds.), Emerging issues in the practice of University Learning and Teaching (pp. 27–36).

Stalp, M. C., & Hill, S. E. (2019). The Expectations of Adulting: Developing Soft Skills through Active Learning Classrooms. Journal of Learning Spaces, 8(2), 25–40.

Theobald, E. J., Hill, M. J., Tran, E., Agrawal, S., Arroyo, E. N., Behling, S., Chambwe, N., Cintrón, D. L., Cooper, J. D., Dunster, G., Grummer, J. A., Hennessey, K., Hsiao, J., Iranon, N., Jones, L., Jordt, H., Keller, M., Lacey, M. E., Littlefield, C. E., … Freeman, S. (2020). Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201916903.

Walker, J. D., Brooks, D. C., & Baepler, P. (2011). Pedagogy and space: Empirical research on new learning environments. Educause Quarterly, 34(4).

Weir, L. K., Barker, M. K., McDonnell, L. M., Schimpf, N. G., Rodela, T. M., & Schulte, P. M. (2019). Small changes, big gains: A curriculum-wide study of teaching practices and student learning in undergraduate biology. PloS One, 14(8), e0220900-16.

Whiteside, A., Brooks, D. C., & Walker, J. D. (2010a). Making the case for space: Three years of empirical research on learning environments. Educause Quarterly, 2, 5–16.

Whiteside, A., Brooks, D. C., & Walker, J. D. (2010b). Making the Case for Space: Three Years of Empirical Research on Learning Environments. Educause Quarterly, 33(3), 11.


Considerations for Podcasting as a Higher Education Assignment

My Podcast Set I

This morning, I’m doing a quick scoping of the teaching and learning resources related to using Podcasts as an assessment tool in the Higher Education classroom. The intended outcome of this environmental scan is to see what the evidence suggests as best practice for designing and facilitating Podcasting assignments. My sources are varied, from Blog posts to peer-reviewed journals (see the bottom of the post for relevant links to the literature).

Initial reactions

Generally speaking, the literature describes students as reacting positively to Podcasting as an assignment type in their course.

Curiously, much of the peer-reviewed literature around Podcasts seems to “peak” at the end of the oughts. Google’s trend data using the search term “Podcast” appears to support this: an explosion of searches for Podcasts, which reaches its relative peak in 2006 ((Curiously, there’s another peak in December 2014 which Google attributes to the Serial Podcast)). If this is the height of the Podcast hype, then it’s not surprising to see papers start to appear in the closing years of the 2000s reporting on the use of Podcasts in the higher ed classroom. But Podcasts, as an assessment type, seems to have moved along the educational technology “hype cycle“.

Rather than work that describes the use of Podcasts as a kind of assessment, I’ve noticed more research on the use of Podcasts as:

  • a kind of instructional technology (e.g. recording lectures as making them available as Podcasts) and
  • a way to provide student feedback.

Can’t help but think there’s an opportunity here for some kind of introspective and retrospective look at eLearning, using Podcasting as a case study.

Design & facilitation considerations

So, without further ado, here’s what people have said about creating Podcast assignments:


  • It will take students more time to produce their Podcasts than you initially imagine.
    • Limiting the length of the Podcast can limit the scope of production and, subsequently, time.
  • Consider if it is a group assignment or an individual assignment: if creating Podcasts for the first time, students want to be able to troubleshoot tech issues with peers rather than feeling it’s up to them to solve their problems.
  • To help tackle the scope of the project, and help with the technical side of things, consider scaffolding Podcasting assignment: break down the Podcast production into discrete steps and have students submit these along the way, in addition to the final version of the Podcast.
  • Is the Podcast a means to an end or an end itself: are you assessing the quality of production or the quality of ideas?
    • Consider providing explicit direction on the amount of time student should spend on post-production.
    • Reflect this in the assignment rubric.

Podcasting as a skill

  • Don’t assume that the “digital natives” in your class know what tools to use to create Podcasts, or, how to use the tools: Podcasting is a skill and they need to be taught that skill.
    • Having exemplars of other students’ Podcasts can help student grasp the expectations and scope of the assignment; or, create an example yourself.
    • One suggestion is to consider creating a Podcast as a live demo in-class: it can set students at ease and can demystify the production process.
  • Make use of your campus’ technology resources when introducing the assignment; having the appropriate campus support introduce the tools and how to use them is a great first step but…
    • Be prepared to devote class time to addressing on-going technical issues.
    • Don’t assume that there is sufficient campus resources to offer individualized support for each group or individual in your class.
  • Keep the tools inexpensive and simple: Garageband (OSX & iOS, $5) or Audacity (Windows, Linux, OSX, Free) should suffice for production.


Other considerations

  • Who is the audience for the Podcast? Have a clear notion of who the intended audience is and be able to communicate that to students.

Podcast Resources

As an assessment tool

Podcasts as an assessment tool in Higher Ed (Blog Post, 2013)

Student Thoughts about Podcasting Assignments (Blog Post, 2012)

Four Mistakes I Made when Assigning Podcasts (Blog Post, 2012)

Can Creating Podcasts be a Useful Assignment in a Large Undergraduate Chemistry Class? (Conference Proceeding, 2010)

Podcasting (Blog Post, 2010)

As a feedback tool

Reflections on using podcasting for student feedback (Article, 2007)

It was just like a personal tutorial: Using podcasts to provide assessment feedback as an instructional tool (Conference paper, 2008)

As an instructional tool

Podcasts and Mobile Assessment Enhance Student Learning Experience and Academic Performance (Article, 2010)

The value of using short-format podcasts to enhance learning and teaching (Article, 2009)

The effectiveness of educational podcasts for teaching music and visual arts in higher education (Article, 2012)


How we scaffolded critical reflection

By the canal, licensed for use under the creative commons.
By the canal, licensed for use under the creative commons.

We ((And by we, I mean my co-instructor Dr. Erin Aspenlieder and I.)) made a significant change in the way we “taught” critical reflection in UNIV*6800: University Teaching, Theory and Practice in the fall of 2013. To measure the success of our change, we asked students rate their confidence in their ability to reflect critically on their learning and teaching practices before the course and at the end of the course ((This is in the model of a self-evaluation method called pre-post-then; in this case assessing post-then. See this article (opens in a new window) for more information on pre-post-then.)).

To do so, we asked them to disagree or agree with the following statement on a scale of 1 – 4, where 1 was “strongly disagree” and  4 was “strongly agree”: “I feel confident in my ability to critically reflect on my learning and teaching practices.” Students self-rated agreement with that statement increased from 2.1 before the course to 3.7 after the course, with all respondents (n=18) either agreeing (3 on the scale) or strongly agreeing (4 on the scale) that they now feel confident in their abilities to reflect on their teaching practices. Granted, while these are only descriptive statistics, I would suggest they do illustrate a trend in the student’s perceptions on undertaking critical reflection and the impact of our process.

So: what did we do? Based on research I conducted for a presentation at STLHE ((STLHE=The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.)) in 2013 on best practices in “teaching” critical reflection ((Also outlined in this blog post.)) we redesigned how we introduced critical reflection, scaffolded the activity and “built” the assignment.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the assignment (with the educational rationale behind the decision indented below each point):

It was a series of three submissions (each around 750 words).

  • Three submissions modelled the ongoing nature of critical reflection; it also required students to practice the skill of critical reflection. I believe that getting students to do critical reflections over the course of the semester is key in learning the skill (and three appears to be  a sweet spot between repetition and being repetitive).

We wrote two critical reflections and posted them to the course website as exemplars

  • Erin and I were demonstrating that we took the skill seriously and provided students’ with two exemplars of what critical reflection “looks like” (or, at least, what we think it looks like).

After introducing what critical reflection was, the first submission was assigned and completed in-class.

  • By having students write their first critical reflection in class, we were trying to limit the time they could spend on the assignment and lower the stakes of the assignment. Additionally, the material concerning components is fresh—students have to spend less time recalling just what they’re supposed to being doing.

I used the same time and prompt to write a critical reflection.

  • Completing this with students in-class was helpful for me as I was able to share the difficulties of the experience and what mistakes I made (like spending too much time on describing the situation and not enough time on critical reflection).

Each student was provided formative feedback by at least one of the course instructors before the next submission was due.

  • Prompt feedback was key for helping students understand where they were doing well with the skill and where they could grow for the next submission. Students had the option of submitting reflections to a blog ((With mixed results.)); if they chose that option, both Erin and I would comment on their submission meaning that they would get additional feedback or prompts for further thought. In some cases, students even responded to our comments, furthering the conversation.

The second and third submission were designed to be completed outside of class.

  • Increasing the complexity of the assignment.

We provided prompts for the first and second critical reflections; a single prompt for the first submission and a choice of three prompts for the second submission.

  • Prompts are defined in the critical reflection lit as a dilemma or critical incident that inspires the critical reflection; while in “real life” a teacher will uncover the dilemma or critical incident themselves, providing prompts reduces the cognitive load of the student so that they can concentrate on the skill of writing a critical reflection rather than the need to also find something to reflect about. The lit also suggests that choice in prompts also increases the relevance for learners, so we increased the complexity of the second critical reflection (and the relevance) by offering a choice of three prompts.

No prompt was provided for the third.

  • The end point of the scaffolded assignment ((Scaffolding is defined as breaking up learning into manageable steps to reduce a student’s cognitive load and encouraging progressive learning.)).

We did, however, provide them a focus for their third critical reflection: a submission on their practice teaching session.

  • The third submission was the most “authentic” critical reflection as not only were students responsible for selecting their own prompt, but the reflection needed to be based on a practice teaching session they facilitated. This was designed to mimic their typical use of critical reflection as university educators.

So, that was our process. While not perfect, it did work significantly better than previous years with the quality of critical reflections improving by the third submission and student’s self-rated comfort with critical reflection increasing over the course of the semester. What process do you use to teach critical reflection to students?


Thinking about York University’s religious accommodation case from the perspective of course design and delivery

New this semester, alumni of UNIV*6800, University Teaching, Theory and Practice are reconvening to form a community of practice (CoP). It is exciting to see former students again while also having the opportunity to discuss issues related to teaching and learning in higher education.


“Teaching” Critical Reflection

Barker Dam Reflections

Thinking about critical reflection has been “front of mind” over the past few days, primarily because Natasha and I are presenting a workshop at this year’s Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) annual conference focused on just that. More specifically, the workshop focuses on a “disorienting dilemma” we’ve faced as course instructors for UNIV*6800, the graduate course at the University of Guelph that focuses on University Teaching.

Update (14/6/14): This post is the inspiration for the peer reviewed paper published in Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching: Teaching Critical Reflection to Graduate Students (Watson & Kenny, 2014).

Update (21/3/14): I’ve blogged on the process that resulted from this research. See how we scaffolded critical reflection.


Five things a TA should do in their first lab, seminar, tutorial or class

Classics seminar

1. Whatever approach you’re going to take in your classroom, model it.

If you plan to use discussions, case studies or experimental work, model some component of it on your first day. You want students to understand that these approaches are important to their success in the course while also letting them know that they’ll be expected to participate in this particular way.

2. Make a commitment to learn student names. State it in the first class. Hold yourself accountable.

Learning student names is a key (and simple) component to engaging students; research suggests the more positive a relationship a student has with an instructor, the higher the student’s final grade (Micari & Pazos, 2012).

3. Bring extras.

This can include: extra course syllabi; details of your office hours & contact information; extra chalk / white board markers; pencils; scrap paper; and lab instructions. Students are bound to forget any and all of these. Plus, looking prepared is a good way to set a tone of your own professionalism.

4. Write the course name, number and tutorial / lab section on the board.

Allows students to check right away if they’re in the correct room; saves the “walk of shame” when they realize they’re not.

5. Start creating a safe space for learning.

This means different things in different classrooms: in a chemistry lab, it might mean highlighting proper procedures; in a humanities seminar, it might mean talking about the kind of environments that encourage appropriate conversation.


Micari, M., & Pazos, P. (2012). Connecting to the Professor: Impact of the Student-Faculty Relationship in a Highly Challenging Course. College Teaching, 60(2), 41-47. doi: 10.1080/87567555.2011.627576


Future Directions in Educational Development

As you may or may not know, I’m in the middle of looking for a job. One of those positions is an Educational Developer at the University of Guelph. In preparation for the interview, I was asked to prepare a 15 minute talk on “The Future of Educational Development in Higher Education” (a topic that was initially overwhelming given its breadth). I’m delivering this presentation in person at the University this morning. Through the power of scheduled posts, you can follow along below (minus my narration).


Reflections on my first use of Twitter in the classroom


Update (5-17-11): This post has turned into a book chapter, which, in turn became a presentation. Feel free to visit both.

Inspired by others’ use of Twitter in higher ed, I decided to try and integrate Twitter into the course that I’ve developed and instructed while a PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.


Student feedback from the first class: in their own words

From the “Lofty Goals” Dept’:

From the “Born Romantic” Dept’:

From the “Extreme Handwriting” Dept’:

From the “Cut the Fluff” Dept’:


An open post to Mr. Jack Towers

Mr. Towers,

Thanks for your comment concerning my use of three pairs of underwear–oops, I mean unmentionables–while on vacation in Peru. This is a personal blog with little or no audience, so I was pleased that you took the time to comment. I do have to say though, that I was slightly hurt with the tone you took. Insinuating that I don’t shower, that I’m cheap and that I’m dumb isn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself with someone you’ve never met before.

And while I might be, in your opinion, dumb about my choice of underwear unmentionables, I do have good skills of observation. For example: I did notice that you left an IP address with your comment: An IP address, Mr. Towers, in case you didn’t know, is kind of like a mailing address. It’s the address you were using to connect to the internet when you left the comment. Luckily, I’m a bit more savvy about IP addresses than my choice of skivvies. I could see, among other things, that you were writing me from somewhere in Richmond Hill using the ISP Futureway Communications, owned by Rogers.

I don’t know if you read any more posts on my blog Mr. Towers, but if you did, you would have probably figure out that I’m a PhD student at York University. I also teach courses. Indulge me a moment to tell you about my teaching–one of the courses that I teach right now has a website. It’s pretty boring and has no photographs of me cleaning underwear. Students can log-in, download lecture notes and upload assignments. You know what else the course website does Mr. Towers? I hope you’ve managed to follow my foreshadowing: it tracks IP addresses.

So here’s where it gets interesting, Jack. A student in this course, on the same day you posted your comment, accessed the course website with this IP address: You know what’s neat about it? Again, I hope you’ve followed the foreshadowing: it belongs to Futureway Communications of Richmond Hill, too!

That’s a hell of a coincidence, don’t you think?

So here’s my suggestion, Jack. I have a good idea who you are. I found the comment juvenile, but still insulting. Why don’t you come by during my course consultation hours so we can talk about this? I would like to hear how this happened. If you wrote it, an apology would be nice too. Looking forward to seeing you soon.