Classroom Design and Retrofitting

by Norman Tracy

A posting to the AAHESGIT Listserver

The basic protocol for the classroom redevelopment process in which I was involved is based on research, and faculty input and feedback. As we went through the renovation process and faculty used these upgraded rooms, we continued to modify the model until we arrived at the following.

The first consideration for new classroom development is the size of the room. Currently, most classrooms are designed to accommodate up to 30 students. It is difficult to use these spaces for larger groups or any activity classes, such as an education methods course. Creating a 800+ square foot space represents a good start at enhancing flexibility, capable of accommodating more than 30 students. At the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center (HEAT), the dimensions of the classrooms were 32' x 26'. We purchased furnishings with the adult learner and flexibility in mind. The rooms could accommodate up to 50 students when outfitted with tables and chairs, and up to 80 without tables in the room.

A second consideration when building a flexible, functional classroom is storage space. By creating a fifty square foot closet capable of storing basic audio-visual or other equipment and supplies, and a place to store foldable tables and stackable chairs in each room, there is no need to move large amounts of furniture to a storage facility in some other location. Rooms can be reconfigured (hourly if necessary) to accommodate varying activities. Rarely are current classrooms capable of accommodating such changes.

The electrical and mechanical aspects of the facility become issues of functionality. Reasonable access to temperature controls within each classroom needs to be considered. Installing heat pumps in new facilities allows for greater flexibility regarding temperature control and seasonal change-over.

Standard parabolic lighting fixtures can be installed as per standard layout, with half of each fixture of the rear bank of lights being controlled separately. The switching needs to be installed near the main entry to the room and at the front of the room in a location where the instructor can gain easy access. The rear bank of lights, which is on a rheostat, is available at the front of the room only. This allows for instructor-controlled lighting adequate enough for students to take notes while the instructor can darken the room enough to project materials on a standard LCD projection panel if so desired. Installation of motion/heat sensors as part of the lighting package are very effective energy saving tools and should be considered as a form of lighting control when the room is not in use.

When considering classroom layout, I recommend that all entrances to a classroom environment be located at the rear of the room so late-comers minimize disruption of classroom activities. I also recommend that the door have a window in it more for safety reasons than anything else.

I further recommend that a standard chalkboard be used in most locations with the exception of high technology areas such as a computer classroom/lab environment. Issues of the expense and limited longevity of materials and the potential risk of permanent damage, make white marker boards my second choice.

I further recommend that a standard projection screen be mounted on the front wall at one corner of the room (usually the non-windowed wall) thereby limiting the screen's intrusion into the chalkboard area yet making it visible to all students in the room. Specialty screens on articulating arms have been field-tested with very limited success and often do not warrant the expense of both the screen and the installation. The basic inexpensive roll type white matte screen is still my screen of choice. On the opposite corner of the classroom, mount a monitor and VCR on the side wall near the front on one of the many wall or ceiling mounting brackets currently available in the marketplace. I preferred the wall mount available through Bretford. Appropriate security straps and devices need to be installed. The location of the electric and coaxial cable resource should be placed at approximately 84" high with the bracket at approximately 65"-68" from the floor. This places the monitor low enough for vertically challenged faculty to use the VCR with little difficulty and the monitor is at a level where students in the front row of the class do not experience neck strain. The electrical and cable resources are hidden behind the monitor.

Security is an issue whenever you install technology. Appropriate security cables and "one way" bolts, etc. must be used. One other consideration is to install glass break/motion detectors in each room. These units are not terribly expensive over the long haul and provides a level of security to the facilities.

Cabling of any facility should be done with consideration for how the room may be used five years in the future. I recommend that voice/data/and video cabling be placed on three walls of every classroom. I furthermore recommend that voice and data lines be installed in hallways for potential use by students or staff using voice and computing in a variety of applications.

I recommend that any new facility be attached to existing video networks or that a head-end be created with adequate modulation to control a variety of video resources (commercial cable, satellite, microwave, central VCR, text information, distance learning audio/video, etc.) for distribution to any video monitor throughout the facility. I also recommend that video resources be strategically placed in hallways and near entry ways so that monitors can be installed in these areas to inform visitors of programs, room locations, etc. Character generation tools can be located in some central office area for ease of daily updating of events and programs.

Selecting furnishings with the primary user in mind is as important as flexibility. My standard for table selection for the adult population is an 18" x 60" table, some of which should have folding legs for quick storage. I have used the Portico table from Kruger International (KI) with good success. These tables are appropriate for most classroom work and can be grouped together to create a larger table, conference style table or a double horseshoe "executive training center" type layout with little difficulty. I have used a Pirette sled chair (also available from KI), which is well-built, has an articulating back and seat, and is easy to store.

I usually recommend carpeting for the floors and in those spaces that have sound attenuation problems, two or three strategically-placed cloth covered sound panels installed on the wall approximately 34" from the floor.

The development of a teaching workstation is one of application and preference. There are numerous models and goes beyond the scope of this brief paper.

Norman E. Tracy
Director, Instructional Media Services
Towson State University
Towson, MD 21252