Modern Teaching Spaces Require Modern Design and Technology – EdTech Magazine: Focus on K-12

September 13, 2022
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Keep these higher education IT leaders, bloggers, podcasters and social media personalities on your radar.
At the University of Michigan’s Central Campus Classroom Building, Monika Dressler, Director of Academic Technologies Services in U-M’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and Frances Mueller, Associate Vice Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs, say the modern learning space provides an engaging and immersive environment.

Erika Gimbel is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in B2B technology innovation and educational technology.

Erika Gimbel is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in B2B technology innovation and educational technology.
Monika Dressler, director of academic technologies services at the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts, walks through a team-based learning classroom in the university’s 100,000-square-foot Central Campus Classroom Building, pointing out some of the features.
“All classrooms have furniture that enables group work,” she says. “We also included height-adjustable tables in each room to accommodate physical needs and give students the option of sitting or standing.”
In higher-tech classrooms, each station has its own shared, retractable computer screen, which can be lowered during a lecture so students have a clear view of the instructor, and wall screens, which are raised during group work.”
The classroom at U-M is just one of many higher education spaces that incorporate cutting-edge technology with innovative furniture and design features to create more engaging and immersive learning environments.
“The traditional format of a classroom — with teachers up front delivering content to students — predates today’s technology,” says Danish Kurani, founder of Kurani, a global architecture firm that designs spaces for education.
“What you can learn in a physical space has high value,” says Kurani. “To collaborate, you have to read body language, tone of voice and see how others react. In person, students learn more soft skills that help them throughout their lives.”
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The idea for the Central Campus Classroom Building at U-M began to percolate about 10 years ago.
“We were receiving more faculty requests for flexible learning spaces to support innovative, active and team-based learning,” says Frances Mueller, associate vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs. “We were able to create these types of flexible learning spaces in existing smaller and medium-sized classrooms by replacing furniture, but were unable to do this in our large classrooms or auditoriums. Large, flexible learning spaces require high ceilings and column-free sightlines, so we could only create them in major building renovations or with new construction.”
Mueller, along with Dressler and the U-M Office of the Registrar, partnered to create a business case for the building.
The new building, completed in 2022, is dedicated to large class sizes. The smallest classrooms seat about 100 students, while the largest seats more than 570. All classrooms have movable or rotating chairs, enabling collaboration.
READ MORE: 3 tips for managing instructional studios in higher ed.
“Even though these classrooms are large, we designed them to feel more intimate,” says Mueller. “Our largest classroom is wider than it is deep, so no student is more than 13 rows from the front of the room.” The room also has a gently sloping floor and multiple aisles that allow faculty to navigate the room as they teach.
More than 350 additional seats fill the corridors and open, light-filled areas. Whiteboards and high-capacity internet connectivity help students share ideas.
“The building has quickly become a popular place for students to study and meet throughout the day, in the evenings and on weekends,” says Mueller.
The building’s signature teaching space is the classroom in the round, which accommodates nearly 200 students seated no more than five rows from the instructor in the center of the room.
The percentage of higher education institutions planning to invest in cameras, microphones and monitors in classrooms
Four 42-by-8.74-foot curved screens enable students to experience an optimized view of projected multimedia from any angle. Twelve laser projectors create an immersive environment and, combined with a high-resolution video processor, enable instructors to create custom multimedia presentations.
“The four screens together encircle the student seating area, so we are working with instructors to help them imagine the screens as an extra-wide canvas,” says Dressler. “Content that takes full advantage of the 360-degree capabilities requires additional programming, so we have staff who will work with faculty to prepare their media.”
At Oregon State University, the Learning Innovation Center (LInC), completed in 2015, serves up to 3,000 students simultaneously. The facility was built to accommodate formal and informal learning, incorporating technology and “human-centric design,” according to Andrea Ballinger, vice provost for information and technology.
The LInC has two large classrooms where faculty members teach in the round. The larger classroom, which seats nearly 600 students, has a high, curved ceiling that brings to mind a high-tech arena. Panasonic projection technology allows faculty to easily display content onto the curved classroom high screen.
“It’s our most impressive space,” says Ballinger. “Students are eye-level with faculty members, and every seat is no more than nine rows away from the center of the room.”
The rest of the 134,000-square-foot building serves a variety of functions. Sofas, ottomans and a coffee shop provide natural gathering spots. Larger classrooms accommodate traditional lectures or team projects, and smaller rooms are used by faculty members.
WATCH: Two experts discuss the latest trends in higher ed classroom design.

“The idea is to allow instructors to mix and match modalities. They can show something live or pull it up on any screen,” says Ballinger. Dell hardware and HPE/Aruba switches and access points provide adequate speed and bandwidth for more than a thousand students at once.
“On a human level, this building makes you part of a group,” Ballinger says. “Simply because of the building’s design and technology, you can’t help but be engaged in learning.”
LEARN MORE: Make the most of classroom design by keeping things flexible.
At Washington State University’s main campus in Pullman, Wash., The Spark building combines state-of-the-art technology with creative learning spaces.
Features include a classroom in the round that holds more than 275 students, flexible classrooms, and active-learning classrooms where students work in groups and mirror their work on a large digital display. A media classroom is dedicated to classes that require software licenses as part of the instruction.
“Any discipline can schedule this room for instruction,” says Sasi Pillay, CIO and vice president of IT services. “We’ve seen classes that range from digital technology and math to apparel merchandising, design and textiles.”
The building is in high demand with faculty and students.
“Most of the faculty would like to teach there,” says Pillay. “They can also hold office hours there or provide advising.”
The building uses displays from Da-Lite and Sony and projectors from NEC. Because of the heavy use, WSU recently upgraded its internet backbone and WAN to 100 gigabytes. The Spark also has a far greater density of access points from Aruba and Cisco compared with older buildings on campus.
“As we build newer buildings on our campuses, we will take this model and try to extend it,” Pillay says.
UP NEXT: How to design a college esports arena students want to use.
Learning space design is not a one-size-fits-all process, but there are some universal rules to follow. Cody Faas, classroom modernization specialist for CDW Education, and Jimmie Singleton, higher education A/V field solution architect for CDW Education, shared some best practices for designing modern classrooms.
1. Plan ahead. Planning should start as early as possible — up to a year out, says Faas. “We have to plan around back orders and how they’re going to use the space and get feedback from instructors and students,” he says.
2. Involve all stakeholders. Classroom technology decisions shouldn’t be left to the IT department alone; faculty should also be consulted. “There’s a lot that goes into user training that we need to be careful of before we make a decision that affects our entire campus,” Singleton says.
3. Don’t forget the furniture. It can be tempting to focus on the tech when designing a new classroom, but learning-space design requires a holistic approach. Through its Blueprint to Design service, CDW asks universities about their goals, then provides furniture suggestions and renderings.
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