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The Harkness Table Design Explained

When we were young, we all read about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The significance of the roundtable was that no one was at the head, and everyone could see each other to promote conversation. Now, many high schools, colleges, and universities are beginning to use a similar table called the Harkness Table. Let’s take a look at what the Harkness table is and how its design enhances communications.

The Traditional Classroom  

In a traditional classroom, kids are set in rows at desks. The teachers or professors stand at the front of the room and lecture. Perhaps some discussion goes on, but it is harder to interact because you are looking at the back of people’s heads, instead of being able to easily make eye contact. Either way, a discussion is often limited and stunted. Collaboration is much harder to achieve in this setting.

History of the Harkness Table

In 1930, the Harkness table’s namesake, Edward Harkness, began using a large oval table to teach at. His use of a table instead of desks was considered revolutionary and progressive at the time. Very few people at the time were willing to adopt his methods. While more acceptable now, it is still not a universally used teaching method.

What is the design of the Harkness Table?  

The Harkness Table is large and oval. It is made for thirteen people to fit at the table; one teacher and twelve students. The space around the table allows for large, comfortable chairs to be around it. This makes it so the people seated at it are not distracted by being uncomfortable.

How does this type of table enhance communication?  

When communicating, being able to maintain eye contact and read body language can be just as important hearing the words being spoken. Creating an atmosphere that encourages this total communication can lead to better and more inclusive discussions. The Harkness Table is designed so every person can easily see every other person at the table, allowing for real interaction between the participants.

The other benefit to the Harkness Table is that it keeps the group small. A group of twelve students and one teacher is small enough that every person can have a chance to speak their mind during normal class time.

A Harkness Table is ideal for those who want to create a small discussion group that fosters inclusiveness and deep discussion.

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