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Ensuring Faculty Input For General University Classroom Design

Issue 32, Winter 2005

by Rick Olsen, UPC Chair

As you would expect, faculty members are quite concerned that new and renovated classrooms on campus meet their teaching needs. In order to ensure that faculty input is paramount in the design of classrooms, the University Planning Council (UPC) is working with ATUS, Facilities, and Space Management to revise and refine design standards for Western’s general university classrooms. While there is an established pattern for individual academic departments to interact with architects and planners regarding design of their departmentally assigned spaces, there has not been such a well-understood mechanism for faculty involvement with generally assigned academic spaces. The UPC will now fulfill that role.

Background On the UPC and Classroom Standards
In 1993 the University Planning Council endorsed a set of design criteria for general university classrooms that included recommendations pertaining to building design, classroom design and room equipment. The development of these design criteria was a joint effort between faculty, university planning staff, and administrators. Studies and recommendations from other institutions were also consulted. The purpose of these design criteria was to guide project architects as they designed general university classrooms in new and renovated buildings.

During the 2003/04 academic year, the issue of general university classroom design was again raised in meetings of the UPC. Major projects were under way for design of classrooms and labs in our next major new building (The Academic Instruction Center or AIC), for renovation of all classrooms in Bond Hall, and complete re-build of classrooms in Miller Hall, faculty members were concerned that faculty input not be overlooked. Concerns were raised about classroom sizes, configuration and flexibility of design, among other issues mentioned. Of paramount concern to faculty was the effect of classroom design on varied pedagogical styles. The UPC design criteria developed more than ten years ago seemed inadequate to meet the needs of faculty in 2005.

classroom design

As the design of all three of the above classroom projects was at a critical juncture last spring, the Faculty Senate appointed faculty to an ad hoc classroom advisory committee that worked with ATUS Director Larry Gilbert to provide input regarding key classroom design issues for AIC, Bond Hall, and Miller Hall. A highlight of faculty input from the advisory committee was the statement of need for more flexible classroom seating arrangements to accommodate varied faculty teaching styles. This recommendation resulted in a revised classroom size standard that significantly increases the square footage assigned per student — allowing for far more flexible seating arrangements (e.g. formation of groups). Installation of mediation for teaching in all classrooms was also strongly endorsed. In addition, the need for specific spaces to facilitate collaborative study activity was identified as important to the teaching/learning environment.

Revising the Standards to Meet Current Needs
The UPC has committed to a comprehensive revision of the general university classroom design criteria, with review completed by the end of this academic year. The committee will work with ATUS, Facilities Management and Space Administration to update numerous classroom design guidelines and standards, with special attention to those standards needed for completion of the Academic Instruction Center design. Each of the design criteria will include both instructional requirements and technical requirements. For example, an instructional requirement for projection screens might be:

Fixed projection screens are required in all classrooms so that faculty may

  • Display computer-based and video materials on a main screen
  • Display slides, overheads and other analog materials on secondary screens

Technical requirements refine the instructional requirements so they can communicate specific design criteria used by architects. For example,

  • All screens will have a matte white surface with a 50 degree viewing angle.

UPC will seek input from other faculty groups, such as the Academic Technology Committee, and individual faculty members as it reviews the draft criteria over the next few months.

Besides the revision and update of the design criteria, the UPC is also addressing its ongoing role as the faculty group which will maintain regular contact with architects and project managers throughout the course of a classroom projects. As well, a UPC member is now being appointed to each project’s steering committee. The purpose of this new structure is to provide ongoing faculty input and review of the building programming, design and construction phases, in order to reach the goal of quality teaching/learning spaces needed to fulfill the university’s mission.

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