PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 27, No. 1, July 5, 2007
Committee makes recommendations to improve ‘learning spaces’
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
Officials on the Urbana campus should rethink how instructional spaces are defined, designed, equipped, maintained and allocated, according to a report from the Instructional Space Advisory Group, a committee that spent the past several months examining various issues related to learning spaces on campus. The group recently submitted its report to Provost Linda Katehi.
The Urbana campus contains 405 general pool classrooms – ranging from 10 to 750 seats – that are under the purview of the Office of Facility Management and Scheduling and are allocated to departments for scheduling six weeks of each scheduling cycle. The campus also contains an additional 400 classrooms, 100 seminar rooms and wet and dry labs that are under departmental control.
“The current mix of general pool, departmentally scheduled, and departmentally ‘owned’ classrooms and the designation of ‘seminar rooms’ applied as it is to rooms with a wide range of capacities results in a less than optimal allocation of classroom space on campus,” the committee wrote in its report to Katehi. The committee recommended that the Office of the Provost and the Office of Facility Management and Scheduling assume responsibility for all classrooms, except for special-purpose spaces such as wet labs.
“You could say that the entire campus is an instructional space, so we thought the provost should have control over it,” said Paula Kaufman, the university librarian, who was interim chief information officer when she chaired the committee.
The committee noted several problems with the current shared scheduling and management system, such as classes with 60 students being scheduled in classrooms that could accommodate only 40 students, and dance clubs holding daily rehearsals at the Armory and disrupting learning activities in nearby classes.
Classrooms are scheduled about 100,000 times annually for other uses besides formal instruction, including the activities of registered student organizations. The committee proposed that after-hours use be restricted to one building to minimize energy usage, to enhance security and to ensure that RSOs have access to basic instructional technologies. Additionally, the committee proposed that the dance department, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, the Assembly Hall and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts work together to allocate space for dance groups.
To effectively use resources and ensure that students have the opportunity to take the courses they need to graduate on time, the committee recommended regularizing the class schedule by establishing standard starting and ending times, and distributing classes evenly throughout the day and the week (Monday-Friday).
The committee recommended that learning spaces be outfitted plentifully with electrical outlets to accommodate use of laptops, cell phones and other technologies, and that the campus wireless computing network be enhanced to eliminate dead spots where service is inaccessible.
Funding for maintenance and replacement of equipment – and for outfitting specialized classrooms with the appropriate technology – is insufficient, the committee reported. It recommended that Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services be allocated “sufficient recurring funds” – of an amount yet to be determined – for maintaining and upgrading technology, including furniture, as needed. Faculty members also should be consulted about their technology needs.
Spaces beyond the classroom – including informal spaces such as commons areas, cafes and outdoor spaces – are integral to the learning process as are the ambiance of all spaces. Environments should be flexible, reconfigurable, reflect the applicable curriculum, provide a mix of formal and informal settings that accommodate a variety of learning activities and experiences, and have appropriate lighting, comfortable and age-appropriate furniture instead of traditional adolescent-oriented desks, and sensory stimuli.
The committee recommended that a virtual teaching commons be established where educators could exchange ideas and participate in discussions, workshops and seminars, and other activities.
Finally, the group recommended that a standing committee be formed to advise the provost and other campus officials on instructional space issues and that its membership include student and faculty member representatives from the Urbana-Champaign Senate, the Center for Teaching Excellence, the Chancellor’s Design Advisory Committee, the Office of Facility Management and Scheduling and other units.
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